Pathfinder Co. v. Industrial Commission

Decision Date05 February 1976
Docket NumberNo. 47044,47044
Citation343 N.E.2d 913,62 Ill.2d 556
PartiesPATHFINDER COMPANY, Appellee, v. The INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION et al. Appeal of Maria ROSA.
CourtIllinois Supreme Court

Timothy F. Sullivan, of Horwitz, Anesi, Ozmon & Associates, Ltd., Chicago (Sidney Z. Karasik, Chicago, of counsel), for appellants.

Sweeney & Riman, Chicago (Gerald O. Sweeney, Chicago, of counsel), for appellee.

WARD, Chief Justice:

The claimant, Maria Rosa, has appealed from a judgment of the circuit court of Cook County which reversed a decision of the Industrial Commission holding that the claimant had established her claim of temporary total disability under section 8(b) of the Workmen's Compensation Act (Ill.Rev.Stat.1973, ch. 48, par. 138.8(b)). The circuit court held that the claimant 'did not sustain accidental injuries arising out of and in the course of her employment' with the respondent, Pathfinder Company, and that the decision of the Commission in her favor was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. The appeal was directly to this court under Rule 302(a). Ill.Rev.Stat.1973, ch. 110A, par. 302(a), 58 Ill.2d R. 302(a).

The claimant, a Spanish-speaking woman, worked as a packager and assembler for Pathfinder. On August 26, 1971, she had instructed another employee, Veronica Kapicinski, in the operation of a punch press. The claimant turned away from Miss Kapicinski after she had assured the claimant that she was able to operate the machine. Shortly thereafter the claimant heard cries for help; when she turned, she saw that Miss Kapicinski had caught her hand in the press. The claimant ran and shut off the machine. She reached into the machine to help the injured woman extricate her hand, but the press had already severed the woman's hand up to the wrist. The claimant pulled the severed hand from the machine and fainted at the sight of it. She later testified, through an interpreter, that the next thing she remembered was waking in Resurrection Hospital in Chicago the following day. Her children testified that when they saw their mother shortly after her admission to the hospital she did not recognize them. According to the hospital records the claimant was conscious but a little nervous upon her admission. She was discharged from the hospital the following day with the records showing a final diagnosis of anxiety reaction.

The claimant testified that she returned to her job two weeks later and worked for about a month at the table where the accident had occurred. During this period she said she suffered often from headaches and had difficulty in seeing. She was then switched, at her request, to other work tables. She also said that she had become afraid of the machines and experienced numbness in her hands and feet. She quit working on December 27, 1971, because she felt too ill to work, and she had not returned to work at the time of the hearing. The claimant testified that she suffers from numbness in the hands and legs and that she is nervous, and suffers often from headaches. She said, too, that she has trouble performing household chores because of the numbness in her hands.

The claimant was hospitalized at Walther Memorial Hospital from January 3 to January 13, 1972, and again from January 25 to February 5, 1972. The hospital records for her first stay show that she was admitted because of a bronchial asthma attack. At the time of her admission, she did not complain of the headaches or numbness that she had claimed since the accident. The records show also that the claimant had tuberculosis in 1950 and that since a relapse in 1954 she is required to take medication to prevent a recurrence. Upon her re-admission to the hospital on January 25, 1972, she complained of having occasional generalized headaches and numbness in her hands and feet. The hospital records for this hospitalization reported she was nervous and highstrung.

Dr. Ben Lichtenstein, who specializes in neurology and psychiatry, testified for the claimant. He said he examined her on July 20, 1972, and concluded that she was suffering from peripheral neuritis and residual anxiety. In his opinion she had not received any physical injury on the day of the accident but she had suffered a great mental shock caused by an alarming sight and this shock could have caused her to faint. The witness said that the claimant's peripheral neuritis could not have been caused or aggravated by this shock. Dr. Lichtenstein testified that when the claimant related the accident to him, it seemed as though she were reliving it and that this 'indicates to us it had a tremendous impact on her consciousness' and that 'the memory is (still) there.' He admitted that his diagnosis that claimant was suffering from residual anxiety was based solely on what she told him and that 'there is nothing objective about this.' He considered that the claimant could be cured and that she should be treated by a Spanish-speaking psychiatrist. He testified that the claimant did the best thing by trying to return to work as soon as possible after the accident.

Dr. Marshal I. Matz, a neurologist, was a witness for the respondent. He said that he felt claimant might be suffering from peripheral neuropathy which might be caused by her taking the drug isonisid to control her tuberculosis. Her complaints about numbness were, in his opinion, fictitious, and he testified that 'the patient had excellent facility in use of her four extremities.' Dr. Matz also stated that he felt claimant tried to fake the results of the pin-prick and muscle-strength tests that he gave her. He admitted on cross-examination that he did not have a specialty in psychiatry and that he did not attempt a psychiatric examination of her.

The arbitrator's finding was that the claimant was temporarily disabled. The respondent appealed to the Industrial Commission and in a hearing before the Commission, presented the testimony of Dr. Alex J. Arieff, a specialist in neurology and psychiatry. Dr. Arieff testified that he examined the claimant on November 15, 1973, and found no objective evidence of any organic disease. In response to a hypothetical question, he stated that there was no causal connection between the claimant's witnessing the accident and her complaints of ill-being. He considered that her complaints of numbness could be attributed to anxiety; but he also felt that her anxiety was a secondary condition and could be due more to the fact that she has suffered from chronic asthmatic attacks. He said: 'There may be some anxiety residual in her memories from the accident but I don't believe that is her disability.' It was his opinion that she was not receiving adequate medical care, that she should receive medical treatment for all her medical problems and that, if her asthma was properly treated, she would be able to return to work. He concluded his testimony by saying that numbness is subjective and does not disable.

The claimant contends here that she did sustain an injury arising out of and in the course of her employment in that she received a severe emotional shock which caused her present psychological problems. She further argues that the circuit court erred when it held that the decision of the Commission was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence.

A question we must consider is whether the circuit court erred in holding that the award by the Industrial Commission was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. But prior to considering that question we must decide the underlying question of whether an employee who suffers a sudden, severe emotional shock, traceable to a definite time and place and to a readily perceivable cause, which produces psychological disability, can recover under the Workmen's Compensation Act (Ill.Rev.Stat.1973, ch. 48, par. 138.1 Et seq.), though the employee suffered no physical injury. We can decide this independently of our common law holdings in tort that deal with the question of whether one may be liable for negligently causing mental distress or harm when there was no physical trauma or impact with the victim. (See Braun v. Craven, 175 Ill. 401, 51 N.E. 657; Elgin, Aurora and Southern Traction Co. v. Wilson, 217 Ill. 47, 75 N.E. 436; McCullough v. Orcutt, 14 Ill.App.2d 513, 145 N.E.2d 109; Holden v. Kayser Roth Corp., 92 Ill.App.2d 240, 235 N.E.2d 426; Corey v. Hiberly, 346 F.2d 368 (7th Cir. 1965); see generally W. Prosser, Law of Torts, sec. 12, at 54 (4th ed. 1971); Note, Negligent Infliction of Mental Distress, 20 DePaul L.Rev. 1029 (1971); Note, Negligence and the Infliction of Emotional Harm: A Reappraisal of the Nervous Shock Cases, 35 U.Chi.L.Rev. 512 (1968); but see Knierim v. Izzo, 22 Ill.2d 73, 80, 174 N.E.2d 157.) Holdings in tort cases are not controlling under the Workmen's Compensation Act. The Act is remedial in nature in that it is intended to provide financial protection for the injured worker. (Board of Education v. Industrial Com., 53 Ill.2d 167, 290 N.E.2d 247; Colclasure v. Industrial Com., 14 Ill.2d 455, 153 N.E.2d 33.) The costs incurred by the allowance of claims are borne by the employer. (Hays v. Illinois Terminal Transport co., 363 Ill. 397, 2 N.E.2d 309; Faber v. Industrial Com., 352 Ill. 115, 185 N.E. 225.) The rights and remedies of the employee are statutory and are not common law rights. Under this statutory right of compensation he may receive an award without having to show negligence on the part of the employer, and he need not show he was free from any contributory negligence (Imperial Brass Manufacturing Co. v. Industrial Com., 306 Ill. 11, 137 N.E. 411), but he cannot invoke common law tort remedies against the employer.

It has been consistently held that the Act should be liberally construed to accomplish its purposes and objects. (Board of Education v. Industrial Com., 53 Ill.2d 167, 290 N.E.2d 247; Zimmerman v. Industrial Com., 50 Ill.2d 346, 278 N.E.2d 784; ...

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