September 03, 2008

Employer’s Action Dismissed Against the Defendant Physician Who Failed to Disclose Prior Medical Condition

September 03, 2008

Hollywood Trucking v. Roger Watters, et al No. 5-06-0231

Hollywood Trucking, Inc. is an interstate motor carrier located in Illinois with its operations regulated by the DOT.  The statute requires each motor carrier to investigate and make inquiries with respect to the physical and medical condition of the driver.  The statute reads:

The medical examiner must be aware of the rigorous physical, mental, and emotional demands placed on the driver of a commercial motor vehicle.  In the interest of public safety, the medical examiner is required to certify that the driver does not have any physical, mental, or organic condition that might affect the driver’s ability to operate a commercial motor vehicle safely.

The driver filed a workers’ compensation claim.  Hollywood, which had no compensation insurance, asserted that the driver was ineligible for benefits because he had made false representations regarding his medical history in the DOT fitness report.  Hollywood then filed a suit against Dr. Robert Watters and the Primary Care Group.  As a part of its complaint against Dr. Watters, Hollywood noted that Dr. Watters’ report stated that the driver had no previous back surgeries or other difficulty when, had he examined the driver’s back, he could have seen the surgical scars.

The defendants moved to dismiss on the basis that the complaint did not establish the existence of a duty owed by Dr. Watters and Primary Care Group to Hollywood.  In reviewing the complaint, the court stated:

Hollywood suggests that Dr. Watters should be held liable for negligently misrepresenting the results of the DOT fitness examination because he is an approved evaluator who undertook to examine Atkinson and record the results of the examination for the specific purpose of directly benefitting prospective employers.  Hollywood contends that it was an intended beneficiary of the relationship between Dr. Watters and Atkinson.  We disagree.  The circumstances of this case do not fit within the parameters of cases where a professional has been hired by a client to render services for the specific purpose of conferring a benefit on a third party.

In this case, Dr. Watters conducted a DOT medical examination on Atkinson for the purpose of determining whether he had any condition or infirmity that would likely interfere with his ability to operate and control a commercial motor vehicle on the public highways.  The DOT medical examination was not performed for the purpose of certifying that he would not reinjure or aggravate his back while performing his work-related duties, and the result of the examination was not expected or intended to be used to assess the likelihood that Atkinson would suffer an on-the-job injury and to calculate the potential exposure to a prospective employer under the Workers’ Compensation Act if it hired Atkinson.  Additionally, we note that the complaint does not allege that Hollywood actually relied upon the results of Dr. Watters’ examination or that it would be required to accept the opinion of a prospective employee’s physician under the federal regulations.

The court also questioned the jurisdiction of a trial court to interpret the Workers’ Compensation Act other than to point out that in determining an employee’s entitlement to workers’ compensation benefits the matter must first proceed to the Industrial Commission before reaching the circuit court.

Editor’s Note:

Obviously, the statute was not intended to permit the employer to file an action against a physician who was not performing the examination because of a duty to the employer.  It should also be noted that the complaint did not allege that Hollywood actually relied on the results of Dr. Watters’ examination or that it would be required to accept the opinion of a prospective employee’s physician.

Hollywood Trucking v. Roger Watters, et al No. 5-06-0231, decided August 5, 2008

Frank J. Wiedner, Editor Wiedner & McAuliffe, Ltd One North Franklin, #1900 Chicago, IL 60606 (312) 855-1105