This 53 year old long term and reliable school custodian contacted Lipkin & Apter after his school district failed to accommodate his light duty work restrictions and denied him worker compensation, financial and medical benefits. When we met JS it was apparent that this hard working and soft spoken Latino man with limited English proficiency would have no chance on his own of obtaining any benefits to which he might be entitled.
Repetitive Stress Causes Injury
JS detailed for us a highly repetitive job that required him to rearrange student desks and chairs in 15 classrooms. Each night JS moved and aligned more than 500 pieces each weighing 15 pounds by grabbing a desk in one hand and a chair in the other.
Medical Restrictions Ignored by Employer
JS visited his primary care physician (PCP) regarding the pains he was having in his hands in 2017-18 but did not relate his pain to his job. Subsequently, JS was sent by his PCP to a rheumatologist, who injected his hands with medication, with little improvement. The specialist wrote a light duty restriction- no lifting over 5 lbs. The note did not attribute JS’s pain to his job, or any reason. When JS presented the physician’s restriction to his supervisor, he was told the restriction could not be honored - he either had to work full duty or not at all, at which point JS went home.
Medical Specialist Documents Cause of Injury
JS was then referred to an orthopedic surgeon for evaluation and treatment. Much to his credit, and to JS’s benefit, the orthopedist had JS explain what his job duties required, and documented this in his medical records. The orthopedist stated his opinion that, without doubt, JS’s moving hundreds of student desks and chairs each night was the cause of his hand pains. The conditions were so advanced that surgery on each hand was recommended. All of this occurred approximately 9 months before JS contacted Lipkin & Apter for our assistance.
Emergency 19 (b) Worker Compensation Petition Filed
JS had now been unemployed and penniless for several months, was not receiving any temporary total disability benefits or weekly workers compensation. We immediately filed a petition for an emergency trial. Illinois worker compensation law allows an injured party to rapidly advance his case to trial with what is commonly termed a 19 (b) petition.
Spanish Interpreter Assists at Trial
With the emergency petition granted, we went to trial. Because JS could not speak English sufficiently for trial purposes, we hired an interpreter at our cost. JS explained to the Arbitrator in detail how he performed his job, the number of pieces he had to move each night, the resulting pain in both hands, his having told his supervisor that his job had caused his hand pains, and the absence of other activities or injuries that might have led to similar pain.
School District Attempt to Discredit Custodian Account
The school district called two witnesses on its behalf- JS’s direct supervisor and the head of the school’s custodial program. Both attempted to discredit JS’s account of the number pieces of furniture he had to move each night and the number of classrooms for which he was responsible. They also denied JS ever told them that his hand pains were work related, stating that JS only complained to them about having gout.
Lipkin & Apter Attorney Cross Examination
Lipkin & Apter attorneys cross examined the supervisors to reveal that JS performed his job well and so they had little reason to actually watch him work. This meant they did not how he rearranged the chairs and desks. Nor did they know the distance the equipment had to be moved. They also acknowledged that in previous months, JS was assigned to clean much larger classrooms. They also admitted that JS had complained earlier about gout in his feet, but never in his hands, and they never saw swelling in his hands, a common symptom.
Arbitrator Awards Medical Benefit, Temporary Total Disability, Back Pay and Permanent Disability
Following trial, in a lengthy written opinion, the Arbitrator ruled for JS on all issues. This included the accident, its causation, medical benefits and temporary total disability. As a result, JS received his full back pay, the school district was ordered to approve his hand surgeries, and to continue paying him total temporary disability until he recovers sufficiently to return to work. At that point, JS will be entitled to receive a substantial payment for permanent disability, the last of the three available categories of benefit in a workers compensation case.