Articles & Updates

John Coleman v. Thornburgh Abatement

by David Reynolds and Rick Salmi

The claimant, an employee of Thornburgh Abatement on some previous asbestos abatement jobs, was hired by the employer to perform some work on a project in DuQuoin, IL, removing asbestos-containing material, including pipe insulation and floor tiles from an old schoolhouse which had been scheduled for demolition.  The jobsite was remote from claimant’s residence and he stayed at a local hotel, rooming with his supervisor, with whom he had worked on previous jobs.

After returning to the jobsite on Monday of the second week, he continued to perform his usual job duties, acting both as a laborer and as a site foreman.  Claimant began feeling sick by Wednesday afternoon, June 28, 2006.  By the next day, he was unable to continue working, and drove himself home, reportedly with great difficulty.  When his wife arrived home that evening, claimant was in such distress that she rushed him to the Emergency Room where he underwent treatment for an evolving infectious process later determined to be necrotizing fasciitis apparently caused by a MRSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus) infection.  The infectious process ultimately resulted in severe and ongoing complications requiring the amputation of both lower extremities.  Additional complications of his infection included septic arthritis of the right shoulder, a heart attack at the time of his initial hospitalization, pacemaker implant with subsequent pacemaker removal as a result of repeated MRSA infections; and recurrent MRSA infections with resultant systemic complications.  In the intervening four years prior to trial claimant also became blind in both eyes which he attributed to his work exposure.  He incurred in excess of $2,000,000 in medical bills over the course of his treatment.

The history of injury contained in the medical records from his hospital admission in June 2006 referred to an injury sustained when a flag pole swung down and hit him in the right buttock and hip area.  The employer was reportedly informed of this history of injury by the claimant’s wife by telephone several days later while the claimant lay in a two week coma.  The job site contained no flag pole and the employer was only aware that the claimant left the job site not feeling well, not that he had sustained a work injury. Accordingly, the claim was denied.

Claimant’s initial Application for Adjustment of Claim, filed July 21, 2006 only indicated an injury at work on June 28, 2006, but did not specify the nature of the injury.  The Claim was amended and refilled on October 10, 2008 alleging a chemical exposure on June 28, 2006.  Claimant’s long-time treating physician, Dr. Khalid, first recorded the change in claimant’s history of injury on June 4, 2007 with claimant telling Dr. Khalid that he was not inured by a flag pole, but had actually been moving containment drums in the basement of the schoolhouse when a liquid substance spilled on his legs, triggering his illness. His history of injury was confirmed by another treating physician, Dr. Michael Smock, who verified that he had discussed the history of injury with the claimant when he provided treatment at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center. Dr. Smock found the allegation of a liquid substance as the source of the claimant’s MRSA infection, including the timeline of illness, to be consistent with the claimant’s allegations.

The matter was tried before Arbitrator John Dibble of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission in Herrin, IL on July 16, 2010. The petitioner alleged permanent total disability, and sought payment of medical bills exceeding $2,000,000. The claimant testified on his own behalf.  The supervisor of the job site, who was no longer working for the employer at the time of trial, testified on behalf of Respondent. The supervisor denied that claimant ever reported spilling any substance on himself, simply that claimant reported feeling ill while at the job site.

The Arbitrator found Respondent’s witness to be credible and noted multiple inconsistencies in Petitioner’s testimony and in the medical records regarding the claim of accident.  He found that Petitioner failed to prove accident, notice or causation and denied the claim.  Petitioner has appealed to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.


*Please note the case is on appeal to the Commission.