Asthmatic worker exposed to gas fumes denied compensation

An appeals court in Illinois on Monday affirmed a previously overturned ruling denying workers compensation benefits for a gas journeyman with pre-existing asthma who was exposed to toxic fumes.

Ricky A. Duncan, an employee at Ameren Corp. in Springfield, Illinois, was diagnosed with a “permanent and irreversible condition” of “severe irritant induced workplace associated bronchial reactivity” after inhaling gas fumes in 2013, according to documents in Ricky A. Duncan v. The Illinois Workers Compensation Commission et al., filed in the Appellate Court of Illinois’ Fifth District in Mount Vernon.

Mr. Duncan sought medical treatment after the first exposure in September 2013 and returned to work two days later. In May 2014, he was diagnosed with a bronchial condition associated with workplace irritants and was advised to take disability leave, documents state.

Mr. Duncan returned to work in September 2014 and experienced a second work-related exposure on Oct. 8. In reviewing his compensation claim, medical records indicate Mr. Duncan’s respiratory issues and preexisting asthma were temporarily exacerbated by the two gas exposures, according to court documents.

An arbitrator for the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission found that he had failed to prove any permanent ill effects from the exposures and denied his claim. Ameren paid for medical treatment and other benefits for what the arbitrator found to be these temporary exacerbations.

Duncan appealed and the Commission’s decision was reversed in circuit court. Ameren appealed, contesting Mr. Duncan’s burden of proof. In appellate court, medical records were introduced that revealed 15 or 16 separate occasions from May 1999 to August 2013 where Mr. Duncan complained of pulmonary symptoms, including shortness of breath, coughing, tightness in his chest, and wheezing.

Judges for the Fifth District agreed that the chain-of-events method of proving causation is inapplicable because, in this case, there was no previous condition of good pulmonary health. The court ruled to reverse the circuit court’s judgment and reinstate the Commission’s decision.

This article was first published in Business Insurance.

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