Law firm sees workers' comp case as precedent-setting, but court disagrees
An appellate court ruling that a Chicago law firm argues is relevant to statewide workers' compensation cases can be used as precedent in only very specific and limited situations, the firm posted on its website recently.
The case affirms a decision to deny benefits to a Springfield worker based on the testimony from a physician hired by the city and the worker’s unreliable testimony about his typical job duties, Keefe, Campbell, Biery & Associates posted.
The firm contends that the case, along with three other recent workers’ compensation decisions, was fairly decided and legally sound, yet they are considered “non-published," meaning that under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 23, the cases cannot be used as precedent except in specific circumstances.
“We consider every ruling to be solid and have no true idea why our IL Appellate Court, WC Division files so many 'non-published' rulings that are actually 'published' on their website,” the firm wrote.
In the Springfield case, Kelly Leka, who claimed to suffer from bilateral carpel tunnel and ulnar neuropathy, argued that the injuries were the result of trauma sustained while working as a lineman in the city’s traffic and metering department.
During testimony, Leka submitted the job description for a lineman from his chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union and testified that his job entailed a wide range of activities, primarily including grasping meters, tools, lineman pliers and cables. He noted that the majority of his work in the three years leading up to the case was removing and installing electric meters, which entailed gripping and squeezing, forcing lock bands open and exerting pressure to remove meters and put them in place.
Leka went to Dr. Michael Watson because of pain in the course of work and everyday life, noting that his hands would go to sleep or cause him pain as he performed his job duties. Watson determined that his issues could be caused by factors like diabetes thyroid disorders, smoking and, according to some, obesity, as well as repetitive hand tasks. Watson decided that, based on the job description for a lineman, Leka’s condition was caused by his work and performed surgeries to alleviate his symptoms.
Dr. Michael Lewis examined Leka on behalf of the City of Springfield and concurred with Watson’s diagnoses and treatment but disagreed on the cause of Leka’s problems. According to Lewis’ notes on the examination, Leka said that he used pliers to cut meter clamps approximately once ever four to six hours and then remove the meters, which typically weigh 2 pounds. Lewis noted that this description did not fit criteria established in the American Medical Association's (AMA) "Guide to the Evaluation of Disease and Injury" for causing the syndromes.
Although an arbitrator agreed with Leka, the workers' comp commission denied the claim. The circuit court overruled the commission, but upon appeal, the claim was again denied, this time by the appellate court.