The full case caption appears at the end of this opinion.
JUSTICE HOLDRIDGE delivered the opinion of the court: Claimant, Donald Mayhew, filed a claim pursuant to the Illinois Workers’Occupational Diseases Act (the OD Act) (820 ILCS 310/1 et seq. (West1992)), seeking compensation for shortness of breath and exerciseintolerance that he suffered as a result of 28 years of inhalation of coaldust, rock dust, fumes, and vapors, while employed by Peabody Coal Company(the employer). The employer filed a motion to dismiss the claim based on aprior settlement agreement (agreement). The arbitrator dismissed the claimas barred by this agreement. The Illinois Industrial Commission (theCommission) affirmed and adopted the arbitrator’s decision. After a changeof venue from Williamson County, the circuit court of Gallatin Countyconfirmed the Commission’s decision. For the following reasons, we affirm. In May 1992, claimant filed an application for adjustment of claim for aback injury that he sustained on June 1, 1990, while employed by theemployer. In May 1994, claimant executed an agreement which included a releaselocated in “Attachment `A’” to that agreement and which stated in pertinentpart that the agreement was in complete settlement of: “any and all claims *** on account of the accident on or about 6/1/90 or any other claimed specific accidents or allegations of repetitive trauma or exposure to noise or materials during employment at Peabody *** and all known and unknown injuries which allegedly resulted from any said specific accident, claims of repetitive trauma, and/or claims of exposure to noise or materials during employment with Peabody ***. It is the intent of the parties to purchase the peace with regard to any and all claims which have been or could be brought pursuant to either the Illinois Worker’s [sic] Compensation or Illinois Occupational Diseases Acts regarding Donald L. Mayhew and the parties intent [sic] for this provision of the contract to be enforced.” In June 1994, claimant was paid $100,000 for a strained back and for theabove-mentioned release. In July 1995, claimant filed his present claim under the OD Act forshortness of breath and exercise intolerance due to the inhalation of coaldust, rock dust, fumes, and vapors, which affected his lungs and/or heart.The date of his last exposure was to have been October 27, 1992. Theemployer filed a motion to dismiss, alleging that the release encompassedin the agreement barred his claim. At hearing, the arbitrator rejected claimant’s Exhibit 3, which was a May9, 1994, letter written by one of his lawyers concerning prior settlementnegotiations. The arbitrator found that the terms of the agreement andrelease were clear and unambiguous and barred claimant’s claim.Specifically, the arbitrator found that: (1) the words “exposure tomaterials” encompassed the claimed exposure by inhalation of coal dust,rock dust, fumes, and vapors; and (2) claims under the OD Act were clearlycontemplated by the parties, noting that the release indicated the partiesintended that the provision covering OD claims would be enforced betweenthem. In dismissing claimant’s claim, the arbitrator held: “The date of last exposure on the Occupational Disease claim (10/27/92) was nearly a year and a half prior to the date of his [claimant's] execution of the prior Settlement Contract on 5/13/94. Thus Petitioner knew or should have known of his occupational exposure *** and knew or should have known of his claimed injury *** when he executed the Settlement Contract ***.” The Commission affirmed and adopted the arbitrator’s decision, and after achange of venue from Williamson County, the circuit court of GallatinCounty confirmed the Commission’s decision. Whether a settlement agreement is clear or ambiguous is a question of lawto be determined by the terms of the agreement itself. Countryman v.Industrial Comm’n, 292 Ill. App. 3d 738, 741 (1997). When an issue onappeal involves a question of law, the reviewing court is not obligated todefer to the Commission’s decision. Butler Manufacturing Co. v. IndustrialComm’n, 85 Ill. 2d 213, 216 (1981). When an issue on appeal involves aquestion of fact, the Commission’s decision will be upheld unless it isagainst the manifest weight of the evidence, i.e., unless the oppositeconclusion is clearly apparent. Paganelis v. Industrial Comm’n, 132 Ill. 2d468, 484 (1989). Claimant first contends on appeal that the Commission erred in concludingthat the agreement and release barred his claim. He asserts that there wasno evidence in the record to support this conclusion, and that theCommission erred in finding that he knew or should have known of hisoccupational disease at the time he entered into the agreement. As to a lack of evidence, the hearing on the employer’s motion to dismisswas continued to allow claimant to provide testimonial evidence regardinghis actual knowledge at the time he signed the agreement. Claimant failedto put forth any such evidence. Documentary evidence, however, did exist and established the followinghistory of events. On May 14, 1994, claimant executed an agreement thatcontained a release found in “Attachment `A’.” In June 1994, claimant waspaid $100,000 for a strained back and for the release that encompassed “allknown and unknown injuries which allegedly resulted from any said specificaccident, claims of repetitive trauma, and/or claims of exposure to noiseor materials during employment with Peabody ***.” In July 1995, claimant filed a claim under the OD Act and alleged an injuryof shortness of breath and exercise intolerance due to exposure toinhalation of coal dust, rock dust, fumes, and vapors for a period inexcess of 28 years. Those 28 years ended two years prior to the signing ofthe agreement, on October 27, 1992, when claimant ceased working for theemployer. Based on the foregoing, the Commission inferred that since claimant quitworking for the employer two years prior to signing the agreement, coupledwith the fact that claimant was alleging that he had shortness of breathand exercise intolerance due to exposure of coal dust, rock dust, fumes,and vapors, at the time he filed his application in July 1995, he knew orshould have known at the time he signed the agreement in May 1994 whetheror not he was exposed to such materials during his employment and whetheror not he had these claimed injuries due to that exposure. The Commission, therefore, did not determine, as claimant suggests, that heknew or should have known of his “occupational disease.” Nowhere inclaimant’s application did he state that he suffered an “occupationaldisease.” He only sets forth a “claimed injury” of shortness of breath andexercise intolerance. It was this claimed injury, and the exposure whichcaused this injury, that the Commission found claimant knew or should haveknown about. The inferences made by the Commission appear reasonable, and we will notreject the Commission’s reasonable inferences merely because we might havedecided differently on the same facts. See Archer Daniels Midland Co. v.Industrial Comm’n, 138 Ill. 2d 107 (1990). Claimant next contends that the agreement should be read to contemplateonly claims in existence at the time the agreement was executed. Thelanguage of the release, however, makes it clear that “It is the intent ofthe parties to purchase the peace with regard to any and all claims whichhave been brought or could be brought ***.” (Emphasis added.) Therefore, wefind that claimant’s contention fails. Claimant contends further that the nature of the claims being settled, asidentified by the language of the agreement, is ambiguous. He maintainsthat had the employer wished to exclude lung injury claims, resulting fromcoal dust, rock dust, fumes, or vapor exposure, it would have explicitlystated so, considering the employer’s frequent dealings with such injuries. The Commission disagreed and found that the release did containsufficiently clear language that covered claimant’s claimed injuries ofshortness of breath and exercise intolerance. Specifically, in addition tohis June 1, 1990, claimed back injury, the release encompassed: “any other claimed specific accidents or allegations of repetitive trauma or exposure to noise or materials during employment at Peabody *** and all known and unknown injuries which allegedly resulted from any said specific accident, claims of repetitive trauma, and/or claims of exposure to noise or materials during employment with Peabody ***.” (Emphasis added.) The above language supports the Commission’s finding that exposure to andinhalation of coal dust, rock dust, fumes, and vapors are covered by thelanguage “claims of exposure to noise or materials during employment withPeabody.” Considering that claimant’s exposure to and inhalation of coaldust, rock dust, fumes, and vapors for over 28 years, and the effects ofsuch exposure, are widely known in the industry, it is reasonable toconclude that the claimed injuries of shortness of breath and exerciseintolerance were contemplated by the employer and covered by its release. Claimant asserts, however, that the word “materials” is ambiguous, since itis not used in the same way as it is defined in the fourth edition ofBlack’s Law Dictionary, that being: “The substance or matter of whichanything is made. Matter furnished for the erection of a house, ship, orother structure which enters into and becomes part thereof.” Black’s LawDictionary 1128 (rev. 4th ed. 1968). Claimant asserts further that the term “materials” is used in the OD Actonly with reference to “radiological materials,” and not occupational dustsor fumes. Common sense tells us that the legislature in enacting laws, as did thedrafters of this agreement and release, were not using the legal definitionof the word “materials,” which we note is not found in the fifth edition ofBlack’s Law Dictionary (see Black’s Law Dictionary 880 (5th ed. 1979)). Theword “materials” is defined in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary as “theelements, constituents, or substances of which something is composed or canbe made.” Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 717 (1997). We agree with theCommission that the word “materials” is not an ambiguous term, but acollective noun, which describes a group of things. We conclude therefore that the Commission properly found no ambiguity inthe word “materials” and correctly held that the “exposure to materials”encompassed claimant’s claimed exposure by inhalation of coal dust, rockdust, fumes, and vapors. Claimant also takes issue with use of the term “specific accident.” Hemaintains that the Commission ignored this limiting language, which, hesubmits, contemplated specified causes of actions that existed at the timeof the execution of the agreement and did not bar his claim. At best,claimant submits that the Commission should have found that this languagemakes the agreement ambiguous. We disagree with claimant’s assertion that the use of the term “specificaccident” was meant to be limiting language. Due to the insertion of theword “or” along with this term, it may be reasonably interpreted as notlimiting language but, instead, just one type of injury out of threepossible scenarios. That being, one can bring a claim for “specificaccident” or “repetitive trauma” or “exposure to noise or materials.” In Rakowski v. Lucente, 104 Ill. 2d 317, 323 (1984), the Court held thatthe fact a not-yet-existing claim is not specifically enumerated in anagreement does not necessarily mean that the claim is not released.Claimant, however, cites this court’s decision in Countryman to support hiscontention that claims intended to be released must be specified. Claimant,however, misinterprets our decision in Countryman. In Countryman, the claimant suffered multiple accidents and separateinjuries while working for the employer. In December 1992, the partiesentered into a settlement agreement. Specific language in this settlementagreement identified accident dates; noted injuries to claimant’s arms,wrists, and elbows; described the nature of his injury as bilateral carpeltunnel syndrome and elbow neuritis; and listed periods of temporary totaldisability. The settlement agreement stated further that it pertained to”this incident” and injuries incurred “as described herein” and “resultingfrom such accidental injuries.” See Countryman, 292 Ill. App. 3d at 743. A release was also included in the settlement agreement. It stated in partthat “settlement is based on [claimant's] present condition andspecifically includes any other accident, injury, aggravation, or onset ofsymptoms to the date of settlement.” See Countryman, 292 Ill. App. 3d at740. In August 1991, the claimant filed a claim under the Workers’ CompensationAct (820 ILCS 305/1 et seq. (West 1994)) for a back injury he sustainedprior to the execution of the settlement agreement. The arbitratordetermined that the settlement agreement released claimant’s claim againstthe employer for all accidental injuries incurred through the settlementdate, and the Commission affirmed. The circuit court reversed theCommission, and this court affirmed the circuit court. In affirming the circuit court, we determined that the language, “any otheraccident, injury, aggravation, or onset of symptoms to the date ofsettlement,” was a general provision that conflicted with, and expresseddifferent intentions from, the settlement agreement, which specificallyidentified claimant’s injuries as being to his arms, wrists, and elbows. Weconcluded that this general language made the settlement agreementambiguous as a matter of law. See Countryman, 292 Ill. App. 3d at 741. This court stated that releases which contain both specific and generallanguage are not ambiguous per se; however, we acknowledged that specificprovisions do override general ones. See Countryman, 292 Ill. App. 3d at743. In Countryman, we held that the specific provisions relating to the releasefrom accidents and injuries to claimant’s arms, hands, and elbowscontrolled over the general release from all claims to the date ofsettlement. The employer failed to identify the claimant’s back injury asbeing included in the settlement agreement, although it acknowledged thatit was aware of this injury at the time the settlement agreement wasexecuted. Thus, the circuit court’s decision that the settlement agreementin Countryman did not bar the claimant’s separate back-injury claim wasaffirmed. In the instant case, unlike Countryman, the agreement and release do notcontain conflicting provisions. In fact, the accident date on the agreementsets forth the same language as found in the release, that being, accidentsoccurring “on or about 6/1/90 or any other claimed specific accidents orallegations of repetitive trauma or exposure to noise or materials duringemployment at Peabody.” The agreement specifically states that its purposewas to “purchase peace with regard to any and all claims which have beenbrought or could be brought pursuant to either the Illinois Worker’s [sic]Compensation or Illinois Occupational Diseases Acts regarding Donald L.Mayhew.” Further, the release specifically states that “the partiesinten[d] for this provision of the contract to be enforced.” Following our decision in Countryman, we find that the specific provisionsof the instant agreement and release control and render the documentunambiguous. Lastly, claimant contends that his Exhibit 3 was improperly excluded. Thisexhibit was a May 9, 1994, letter written by one of his lawyers and offeredas parol evidence to show that the intent of the parties prior to executionof the agreement was to include only those claims “to date.” Claimantasserts that because the agreement was ambiguous, parol evidence may beproperly admitted to clarify the parties’ intent. In Bruner v. Illinois Central R.R. Co., 219 Ill. App. 3d 177, 180 (1991),it was noted that where terms are clear and unambiguous, in the absence offraud, duress, mistake, or illegality, parol evidence cannot be used tovary those terms’ ordinary and natural meaning. The language of the instant agreement is clear and unambiguous andrepresented the agreement between the parties. Claimant has made noallegation of fraud, duress, mistake, or illegality concerning theexecution of the agreement. Importantly, claimant does not allege mutualmistake of fact. Claimant had the opportunity to present testimonialevidence concerning his knowledge and intent at the time of the executionof the agreement; however, he failed to do so. Since the terms of theagreement are clear and unambiguous, claimant’s Exhibit 3 was properlyexcluded. Based upon the foregoing, the circuit court of Gallatin County is affirmed. Affirmed. McCULLOUGH, P.J., and RAKOWSKI, COLWELL, and RARICK, JJ., concur.
DONALD MAYHEW, Appellant, v. THE INDUSTRIAL COMMISSION, ET AL., (Peabody Coal Company, Appellee). No. 5-98-0453WC Industrial Commission Division Appellate Court of Illinois, Fifth District Appeal From The Circuit Court of Gallatin County, Illinois No. 98-MR-1 Honorable Thomas H. Sutton, Judge Presiding. Date May 4, 1999