If you are injured at work through repetitive trauma, or, in other words, the act of repeating some action or actions which lead to physical problems, you may be entitled to benefits under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. “Repetition is beautiful,” the late Prince once said. He did not mean this with regard to repetitive trauma injuries, but there is something to admire in the hard work and repetition that unfortunately can lead to such injuries.
In a repetitive trauma claim, the difficulty lies in determining an accident date, and the relevant date is the date on which the injury “manifests itself,” which is the date on which both the fact of the injury and the causal relationship of the injury to the claimant’s employment would have become plainly apparent to a reasonable person. This concept came up in a recent Illinois case, Reyna Trujillo-Villalobos v. TM West Wholesale Baking Co. Perhaps the most common repetitive trauma injury is carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), as discussed here before, but this case we will discuss is a different kind of repetitive trauma involving disc herniation in the spine. It is especially interesting because of the complex timeline of the medical records and history:
- Reyna Trujillo-Villalobos worked as a donut maker at a baking job for almost 7 years.
- Her job duties involved lifting dough that was 20 to 25 pounds from one area, then placing it on conveyor belts, for 2 to 3 hours repeatedly.
- For one day per week, her duties involved 5 and a half hours of covering donuts in chocolate, and carrying 5 gallon buckets.
- October 10, 2010: She went to the E.R. complaining of “severe low back pain radiating to the legs,” and she denied any specific incident or trauma. She was prescribed medication and told to follow up with her doctor.
- June 4, 2013: She she saw her primary care physician and reported “headache and pain in her knee and feet over four days,” and again, she did not report any specific accident or trauma.
- July 25, 2013: She returned to the E.R., reporting back and left leg pain, and x-rays were negative.
- August 4, 2013: At the E.R. she described low back pain radiating in her right leg.
- September 21, 2013: At the hospital she reported a 3 month history of pain radiating into both legs, and she denied any specific trauma, and an MRI was ordered.
- October 23, 2013: She had an MRI of the lumbar spine, which showed multilevel disc degeneration with a disc herniation at L4-5 causing stenosis at the L4-5 level.
- October 26, 2013: She discussed the MRI results with a doctor at the hospital, and yet again, there was no history of work activities or a specific connection to work.
- December 5, 2013: She saw a Dr. Murtaza, and for the first time, gave a history of an August 19, 2013 work accident, and also reported that the pain had started in July. Dr. Murtaza prescribed physical therapy and wrote her off work.
- January 9, 2014: She saw Dr. Murtaza, who again kept her off work, and prescribed continued physical therapy and medication.
- February 6, 2014: Dr. Murtaza reviewed the MRI, and documented that there had been a work-related injury, and referred her to a spine surgeon.
- March 25, 2014: She saw the spine doctor, Dr. Erickson, and he recommended a hemilaminectomy at L4-5.
- March 27, 2014: Workers’ comp insurance sent her to an Independent Medical Exam (IME). The IME doctor at first agreed with the treating doctor’s assessment, but more specifically said she needed a laminectomy and diskectomy at L4-5.
- April 10, 2014: The IME doctor issued a supplemental report and basically retracted his previous assessment, noting that her ankle pain did not indicate a herniated disc, and that “activities of daily living” degenerative in nature were also possible causes of the injuries. Sadly, this comes as no surprise because we know what an IME doctor is used for in Illinois workers’ compensation, as we have discussed on our blog: They are hired by the insurance company with the intention to provide an opinion against the injured worker.
- June 26, 2014: She saw a neurosurgeon, Dr. Herman, and his records noted a work accident in which she was “lifting pans in May or June 2013 and began having pain in the low back and legs, which worsened in July.” He said she needed a laminectomy and diskectomy at the L4-5 level.
- July 29, 2014: The Arbitrator issued his decision against the injured worker, based mainly on the argument that the medical records did not support the claimant’s case.
- September 1, 2015: The Commission reversed the Arbitrator’s decision in favor of Ms. Trujillo-Villalobos. The Commission found the injured worker’s testimony credible, and noted that she was told by doctors on August 4, 2013 that her back and leg problems were work related, and she proceeded to give notice to her employer on August 19, 2013, which was within 45 days notice, as required by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act.
This case is a strong example of the benefits of having an attorney in Illinois workers’ comp. If this injured worker had not had an attorney, the insurance company would have denied treatment based on their “independent” medical exam, and it would have been nearly impossible for her to represent herself in the court of law, and to bring the matter before an Arbitrator, and then the Commission, and to succeed pro se. Her medical history and questions of notice of injury were a complete mess, to say the least. This very difficult repetitive trauma case win is a testament to what a good Illinois workers’ compensation lawyer can do.