Joliet Office

60 North Chicago St.
Joliet, IL 60432


Tel: 312.277.3000
Fax: 312.277.3008
Springfield Office

One West Old State Capitol Plaza
Suite 801
Springfield, IL 62701

Tel: 217.801.9733
Fax: 312.277.3008
Chicago Office

901 W. Jackson Blvd.
Suite 301
Chicago, IL 60607

Tel: 312.277.3000
Fax: 312.277.3008

Case Name: December 2015 – Ricardo Haro v. Carl Buddig & Co.
Venue: Cook County IWCC
Handling Attorney: Andrew Fernandez
Date of Accident: 02/06/2012
Potential Exposure: Approx. $1.5 Million
Arbitrator Findings: No compensable injury; $16,205.87 credit to our client for benefits and expenses paid prior to trial.

Dear Clients,

We are pleased to share with you a resounding trial victory in front of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.  This case demonstrates the importance of diligent file review and trial preparation in order to ensure that a claimant whose story changes is called out on his inconsistencies.  It also shows how a thorough reading of medical records can expose a myriad of likely causes for poor health other than a work-related accident.  Our defense in this case also included something rare, and possibly unprecedented at the Commission: admission into evidence of an accident re-creation and a biomechanical report prepared by Dr. Louis Draganich showing that the alleged workplace accident could not have been the cause of Petitioner’s later-arising back injuries.

The evidence we presented compelled the Arbitrator to find that no compensable accident occurred, and that any alleged workplace incident was not the cause of Petitioner’s back issues, resulting in a total victory for our client.

Case Summary Background

Petitioner Ricardo Haro alleged that on February 6, 2012, he injured his back after pushing stacks of boxes from one pallet skid to another while working as a shipping associate in a Carl Buddig meat packing facility.  After complaining to his supervisor of back pain, Respondent sent Petitioner to Ingalls Memorial Hospital for evaluation.  X-Rays revealed a lumbar strain, but no serious damage or abnormalities.  An occupational health examination confirmed the diagnosis of lumbar strain and Petitioner was released to restricted work duty.

Despite Respondent’s well-publicized policy of accommodating any and all legitimate work-related injuries, Petitioner did not return to work until six weeks later, and only for one day, before returning to the hospital and complaining again of lower back pain.  He then received three months of periodic treatment on his back, all while missing work despite a light duty job being available to him.

An independent medical exam in May 2012 revealed that the initial back strain had since been resolved and that Petitioner could return to work without restrictions.  This doctor was one of multiple throughout the process who noted that Petitioner’s claims to be in pain did not match the way he walked, or what was indicated on the X-rays.

After being offered an opportunity to return to work, Petitioner sought treatment from another doctor, complaining that his back was too sore for him to return.  New X-rays confirmed the lack of serious injury and nothing more than exercise was prescribed.  Petitioner returned several times over the next two months, each time seeking an “off-work” note, despite the doctor’s lack of physical findings to support Petitioner’s alleged pain.

Within two months of his final request for an “off-work” note, Petitioner returned to the doctor after carrying his 70-pound son a distance of about 100 yards.  His injury was shown to be nothing more than a back strain and he was again cleared for full duty.  He sought treatment for his back once again two weeks later after he admitted to setting up an outdoor party tent and accompanying furniture.  These new incidents led Petitioner to undergo an MRI, which revealed a herniated disk and a pinched nerve.

Petitioner then underwent two back surgeries, despite a doctor’s opinion that he had engaged in “symptom magnification” in order to force the issue.  He also underwent a series of steroid injections and physical therapy, all the while maintaining his inability to work, even light duty, in complete disagreement with his treating physicians.

Petitioner requested another back surgery, as he had continued complaints of pain, and his prior surgeries had failed.  Since the Petitioner’s provider would not perform this surgery without authorization from our workers’ compensation provider, the surgical request forced this matter to trial.

Legal/Claim Strategy

Our strategy was to work aggressively towards a complete victory, rather than simply minimizing our client’s exposure.  We cast serious doubts on the most basic element of Petitioner’s claim: that the discomfort he felt after pushing boxes was a compensable injury.  We exposed Petitioner’s lack of credibility, the likelihood of other events causing his back problems, and the physical impossibility of the alleged incident affecting him to the extent that he claimed.

Because we thoroughly familiarized ourselves with Petitioner’s medical records, we were aware of his history of dishonesty in his treatment, and prepared for him to contradict himself on the witness stand.  When doctors and Respondent sought to help Petitioner return to work, he claimed he was unable because he could not climb stairs; despite the complete lack of stairs in the worksite.  He told a doctor that light duty work was not available, despite Respondent’s policy of accommodating all work-related injuries, including with light duty work if necessary.  He sought “off work” notes from doctors, but showed no physical symptoms that matched the pain he claimed to be in.

We also exposed how Petitioner’s story of how he was injured changed each time he told it.  He initially told his supervisor that he had been pushing three rows of stacked boxes.  At trial, he claimed it was six to eight rows.  An eyewitness coworker confirmed that it was in fact only 3 rows.  This inconsistency, combined with his record of dishonesty during treatment, caused the Arbitrator to find Petitioner to be a non-credible witness.  Our exposure of his falsehoods compelled that result.

Our review of Petitioner’s medical records revealed that prior to his back surgery, and during times he claimed to be totally unable to work, he was doing heavy lifting and exacerbating his pre-existing problems.  He admitted to his doctor that he had picked up his 75-pound son and carried him 100 yards, and on another occasion, set up an outdoor party tent along with the accompanying furniture.  It was only after these two aggravations that he underwent an MRI and sought surgery.  These events cast even further doubt on Petitioner’s claim that his alleged work injury was actually the cause of his more serious back problems several months after the fact.

We bolstered our defense with a groundbreaking new form of evidence; a re-creation of the accident and a biomechanical evaluation conducted by Louis Draganich, PhD.  Dr. Draganich interviewed Petitioner’s co-workers so that the scene could be perfectly re-created and used a stand-in of Petitioner’s same height and weight so that he could measure the force exerted while pushing the boxes.  This allowed him to calculate the compressive force that would have been applied to Petitioner’s back, which was revealed to be only a fraction of what would have been necessary to cause the disk herniation.

Significance

This case demonstrates once again that a business does not need to feel pressured to settle frivolous workers’ compensation cases.  With the right legal team, an employer can and should achieve total victory.  Our attorneys work to master the crucial details contained in every claimant’s medical and employment records so that our clients don’t pay out unwarranted awards based on a claimant’s untrue or inconsistent statements.

We also extend a special thanks to Dr. Draganich.  His diligence and professionalism made it possible for us to successfully argue for admission of his report into evidence.  That admission was a rare, possibly unprecedented, step in the right direction towards emphasizing objective analyses of injuries.  We hope the Commission will remain open to such reports in the future, and we will fight for their inclusion whenever they are in our clients’ best interest.

If you should have any additional questions or thoughts about this decision, please do not hesitate to contact the undersigned or the handling attorney, Andrew M. Fernandez.

 

Very truly yours,

KNELL O’CONNOR DANIELEWICZ

Bradley C. Knell