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The Best Workers’ Compensation Attorney in Chicago???

I get asked all of the time something like who is the best work injury lawyer in Chicago or best RSD attorney in Champaign.  My answer is always that it depends on the specific facts of their case. In other words, we try to connect you with the best lawyer for your unique situation.

So while there are a bunch of firms that I think are fantastic, I won’t call anyone the best.  But I do know who the worst firm in Chicago is.

Over the last week I’ve received calls from five different clients of one downtown law firm.  All five are fed up with the terrible service that they are receiving and wanted my help in finding a new lawyer.  Five!  That’s an insane amount of unhappy clients and certainly is an indication of a larger problem because of course it’s not as if every unhappy client of theirs called me.

It was the same story over and over.

Caller 1. “I thought I was hiring the head of the firm, but they ended up assigning my case to someone who just passed the bar exam.”

Caller 2. “Five calls to their office and nobody called me back.”

Caller 3. “They’ve switched the lawyer handling my case three times in a year.”

Caller 4. “When I tried to ask a question about my case they told me they’d call me back.  That was three weeks ago.”

Caller 5. “They told me to settle my case even though I have a surgery scheduled.”

It’s all stories of customer service nightmares and it’s a joke.  These people put their lives in the hands of a firm expecting that they will have someone who will fight for them and it doesn’t happen.

The logical question is, how do they get all of these clients?  Well, I get on average 1-2 calls from their unhappy clients a week and have been asking them over the last year how they ended up there in the first place.  The answer is that they do a ton of marketing, they tell you what you want to hear to get you to sign up and they have an aggressive campaign to target lawyers in other practice areas to try to get them to refer cases with the promise of hefty referral fees.  If you are a divorce lawyer and don’t know anything about work comp and this firm promises you a big, fat check for recommending them, you will probably think it all sounds great.

The good is that we were able to help out most of these people as their cases, except for one, weren’t too far along.  The bad is that we don’t know the damage that has been caused to the case yet by the bad representation and in the very least, it’s put a strain on the injured workers and created a lot of unnecessary work that could eventually hurt their settlement leverage.

Bottom line is that if you have a lawyer who isn’t calling you back or doesn’t answer your questions or switches your representation within the firm or yells at you or does anything else that shouldn’t happen, leave them before it’s too late. It costs nothing to switch firms and can literally be the difference between winning and losing.

Do you have to be paid a settlement?

A nice woman called me after undergoing successful carpal tunnel surgeries to both of her hands/wrists.  She had post surgery therapy and is back to work on a full duty basis. All of her medical bills have been paid and she was paid TTD benefits for the approximately six weeks worth of work that she missed.

She had heard she was entitled to some sort of settlement and called the insurance company trying to get one. They told her that they don’t offer settlements when a worker is returned to work on a fully duty capacity and wished her a good day.

She called hoping to find out if this is true.  Does the insurance company have to offer a settlement?

The answer is a weird one.  The correct answer is that they don’t have to offer anything.  By that I mean they would not be subject to any penalties for failing to make an offer.  On the flip side, they could get hammered by an Arbitrator if they don’t pay for TTD benefits or medical bills that are related to your work injury.

But just because they don’t have to offer one doesn’t mean you can’t force your hand. To my knowledge there has never been a case with a surgery or any injury which required a decent amount of medical care that didn’t end up in some permanent partial disability award of some sort.  With a surgery x 2 like this one, it would surely be somewhere in the five figures.

So how do you make that happen? It’s pretty simple.  A lawyer files your case, gathers your medical records and files a motion for trial.  That is almost always enough to get settlement talks going.  If they offer a fair amount, great.  If they don’t then you go to trial and the arbitrator will award a fair amount.  Most insurance companies don’t want to do that because if they do, you also get to keep your medical rights open as relates to this specific injury.  Insurance companies don’t like the unknown and the possibility of future medical bills is a great unknown which usually will motivate them to settle with you.

Bottom line for you is that unless your case is not really a work related injury, you can expect that with any decent amount of medical care you are entitled to something.  That might be as little as $500 or hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.  That amount depends on a lot of factors such as your wage, your injury, your medical care, your age, your ability to go back to your old job and your future medical needs.

Peyton Manning and Illinois Workers’ Compensation

Sunday the Chicago Bears lost to the Denver Broncos who were not lead by future hall of famer and all time passing leader Peyton Manning.

Manning sat out with numerous injuries that lead in his last game to throw four interceptions in just 20 passes.  He only completed one more pass to his teammates than he did to the other team.  He looked like he was done.  And he might be.  In the past he’s had a ton of injuries, the most severe of which was a neck injury that lead to a cervical fusion of his vertebrae.  That’s a major, major surgery and it’s quite remarkable that he came back to play at all after that.

I can’t think of a “regular” job that involves someone getting hit hard on a weekly basis by huge men where a doctor would advise a patient that they should return to that job.  While NFL players do receive workers’ compensation benefits, the standard for them is definitely different than it is for other workers in terms of getting benefits or not.

That said, if Peyton was playing for the Bears or had been injured playing in Chicago, under Illinois law the moment that he stopped playing he would likely be eligible for wage differential benefits as it’s a certainty that a doctor could credibly testify that he shouldn’t do his normal job and it’s also a certainty that he can’t go out and get a new job making similar money.

Now Peyton chose this road and made over $100 million in his career so it’s not a relevant point for him.  But it is relevant for someone who hasn’t had his career and the truth is that most NFL players make it for a year or two.  There is a rookie on the Bears named Anthony Jefferson who broke his arm against the Browns earlier this year.  Maybe he’ll return to have a great career.  If so, he’d still be entitled to some sort of settlement for his broken arm.  Maybe the arm injury is so serious that a doctor tells him he can’t play again or it prevents him from making a roster.  In that case he’s likely to be eligible for a large wage differential payment.  I can’t tell you exactly what it would be worth, but it would be in the hundreds of thousands.

So you are probably thinking, “This is great, but what does it have to do with me?”  Well, if you are injured at work in a major way or have a job which is likely to continue to make your injury re-occur or get worse, you might be in the same boat as these NFL players.  If that’s happening to you, you should talk to us or another reputable Illinois work comp law firm to know your rights and to know what to ask your doctor about your career.

If your doctor thinks that it’s a good idea for you to avoid the type of work that you are doing, you are not left out in the cold under Illinois law (and boy has it been cold lately).  You are entitled to help looking for work within your restrictions and if a new job doesn’t pay as well as the old one, you get compensated for that.

This certainly is more common with older workers, but it happens with younger ones too.  Years ago I represented a 20 something year old construction worker who injured his feet on the job site. His normal job required him to regularly lift up to 100 pounds and work on uneven pavement.  The uneven pavement lead to multiple re-injuries and ultimately caused his doctor to state that he should do a different type of work.  He could still work construction, but not the kind he was used to.

This all lead eventually to a mid six figure settlement and a better work life for him.

Of course ideally you’ll never get this severely injured.  However, just as it looks like Peyton Manning should stop doing his normal job, if your job is putting you at risk, there are safeguards in place for you.

If Lawyers Don’t Ask The Right Questions

A case came to us recently in a peculiar way.  A woman called looking for an attorney for a guardianship case.  Her cousin had died and left behind a young child.  Nothing about that screams work comp, right?

The logical question after offering condolences was, “How did she pass away?”  The answer was that she had a bad asthma attack at home.  The paramedics were called, but she unfortunately passed away.  Again, nothing about that makes it seem like there would be any sort of workers’ compensation case.

Most lawyers would stop right there and focus only on the guardianship aspect of this case, but the attorney who took this call knows well enough to make sure that you explore every legal possibility that you can think of.  So he then asked what type of work the cousin did and that’s when the caller revealed that her job had been making the asthma get worse and in fact a doctor had stated she couldn’t do her normal job duties, but the employer ignored those restrictions.  Multiple times they had to call an ambulance for her at work because of asthma attacks.

We haven’t seen the records, but it seems clear to me that the job likely contributed to her having the fatal asthma attack.  She worked on the day she died and apparently in a position she wasn’t healthy enough to handle.

The law in Illinois is that if your job plays a role in your injury, you get benefits.  You don’t have to be at work when you suffer the actual injury and this is a great example of how that plays out in real life.

This is a really significant situation as the minimum death benefit in Illinois is $500,000.00.  That can have an amazing impact on the life of a young child who will never know their mother.

If it’s true that the employer did not accommodate these needed health restrictions then it is beyond sad and it might even be worth looking in to whether or not they can be sued for their reckless disregard of her life.  It may be one of the rare times that a company can be sued for negligence.

Bottom line for you is that you need a lawyer who is going to ask questions.  You don’t know what you don’t know so it’s not on you to figure out what possible other cases you may have.  This isn’t a unique situation as we get lots of cases where people are looking for an attorney for one thing only to discover, because good firms are asking questions, that they have a potential Illinois workers’ compensation claim.  Over the years we’ve talked to many people who would have had a possible claim for something else, but their work comp attorney didn’t alert them.  When that happens and you’ve waited too long, your only option is to sue your lawyer.

When you are injured but don’t know why

Since people know that I’m a lawyer who’ll talk to anyone about anything for free, I often get calls from people who have situations other than Illinois workers’ compensation.

It amazes me how often someone will start to tell me about a case they want to pursue, but have no idea that they might have a work comp case too.

Most recently I was called by a mechanic who had a back surgery that went poorly as it appears the screw from his fusion was pressing on a nerve.  Someone told him that I know the top medical malpractice lawyers in Chicago and that’s true.

While we were talking about his case, I learned that he was a mechanic and had no idea how he hurt his back in the first place.  We went on to discuss his job duties and as you can imagine, back when he was working he did a lot of heavy lifting.  In fact at the end of the day his back would be sore.  He’d feel better after he had his two days off, but when he started back at work it would become worse every day.

He never pursued workers’ compensation because he never had an accident.  To me though it’s clear that his job activities played a role in him developing such a bad injury.  He’s been forced to sell his home and crowd fund for help with his medical bills because he’s been without an income for two years.  But with workers’ compensation benefits, 100% of his medical bills will be paid and he’d get compensated for his time off work.

The good news is that all of this can happen retro-actively if we can get a doctor to agree that his job activities played a role in his injury.  We can’t get his house back, but hopefully we can get his life back on track.

For you, remember that you aren’t expected to be a doctor, lawyer or Judge.  If you know how you hurt yourself that is great, but if you don’t that doesn’t mean you can never bring a case.  There are time limits of course, but if we can show that your job played a role in you developing your condition then you can get benefits.

The key point is that the job has to just play a role.  It doesn’t have to be the only reason you got hurt or even the major reason. Illinois law allows for benefits if your job caused, aggravated or accelerated your injury.  We can help you figure out if that’s possible as well as tell you what to ask your doctor in order to get their opinion as to what impact your job had.

This can be confusing. If you’d like to work with an attorney in our state wide network or just have questions, call us in confidence at (312) 346-5578 or fill out our contact form to the right.

Illinois Work Comp Wishes For 11-11

Since it’s 11-11, I’m going to make some workers’ compensation wishes.

I wish that Governor Rauner would get to know some actual hard working Illinois workers and see how his proposed changes to the Illinois workers’ compensation system would ruin their health and lives.

I wish that insurance companies would be honest with injured workers unlike the one who told my recent caller that they can’t get work comp benefits until they are all better.  It would be less work for me, but better for the workers.

I wish that law firms who don’t call clients back, yell at them, don’t fight for them or lie about what a case might be worth in order to get the client in the first place would just close their doors.  If you don’t want to be an advocate for injured workers there are plenty of other things you can do with your time.

I wish that the Cubs would get more pitching (oops, wrong blog). :)

I wish that all independent medical examination doctors would truly be independent.  Lots of the ones I see look at injured workers as a way to pay for their country club memberships or new car.

I wish that decisions in all arbitrations had to be written within 30 days of a trial and that if either side appealed that ruling that you could guarantee that process would take no more than six months.

I wish lawyers would stop lying to their clients about how long it takes to get to trial.  Hint, it’s not 2-3 years.

I wish insurance adjusters wouldn’t make injured workers think that they have to give a recorded statement in order to get benefits.

I wish nurse case managers wouldn’t break the law by trying to talk to your doctor without your permission.

I wish every injured worker knew not to give permission to a nurse case manager or anyone else to talk to their doctor.

I wish that the state of Illinois was more aggressive in prosecuting employers who knowingly don’t have workers’ compensation insurance.  It’s a felony, but that means nothing if there is no punishment.

I wish that Illinois workers’ compensation laws would be changed to provide benefits for people who have mental breakdowns due to terrible working conditions.

I wish that if the Thompson Center does get sold that the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission finds a good home in the Loop.

I wish that employers would be forced to put in to place realistic safety measures that would prevent so many injuries.

I wish insurance companies would stop trying to disallow medical procedures like MRI’s, surgery, physical therapy or anything else which can help determine what injury you are dealing with and/or treat it in a way which relieves your pain and helps you get back to work.

I wish employers would stop offering fake jobs as a way to get out of TTD benefit payments.

I wish insurance company employees didn’t get compensated based on how many legitimate claims they can deny.

Most of all I wish all injured workers a speedy recovery.  I get that when you are hurt and unable to work it feels like your life is literally on the line.  I don’t wish that feeling up on anyone.

When you can’t afford to see a doctor

We’ve helped a lot of people over the years from all walks of life.  In one day recently I talked to a plant worker at Ford Motor Company in Chicago, a CTA driver, a downstate convenience store worker and an Arena League Football player.  The following day I talked to a mechanic shop owner, dental assistant, teacher and union plumber.  The day after that I only had calls from two new people, but one was a doctor with carpal tunnel and the other was a salesman from out of state injured on business in Illinois.

I love speaking to people from all walks of life.  It makes my job more interesting. At the same time though, most people that I talk to do not know very much about the Illinois workers’ compensation process.  One of the most common concerns is “what do I do when I can’t afford to see a doctor?”

Doctors can be expensive.  Even with insurance, out of pocket costs and co-pays can lead to thousands of dollars of responsibility for you.  But if you were injured and have an Illinois workers’ compensation claim, 100% of your medical care will be paid for by the work comp insurance carrier.  Nothing out of pocket and no co-pays.

A reader of my blog had knee troubles and sought treatment at the company doctor back in early 2014.  He was then fired and continued to have knee pain. He didn’t know that work comp would pay for his medical bills so he just took pain pills and tried to stay off his knee. Now almost two years later the pain is unbearable and he wants to bring a case.  His argument to me was that he shouldn’t be blamed for not being able to afford medical care or for not knowing what Illinois workers’ compensation laws are.

I was sympathetic to his situation, but like everyone I talk to, I told him the truth.  The truth for him is that it’s almost impossible to prove that his knee condition today is related to a job he hasn’t worked at in almost 24 months. There wasn’t a MRI before he got laid off and if I put him on a witness stand, the defense attorney would shred him apart over the gap in medical care.  It’s not as if he’s been bed ridden for the last two years and in fact he’s working a new job.  So to place blame on the old job would be nearly impossible.

I had to turn his case down and as I told him, I don’t make money by turning cases down, but I always tell the truth.  And the truth is that because he didn’t know the law and get timely medical care, he pretty much screwed himself over.

There’s nothing more important than your health so if you are having problems I can’t suggest enough that you get medical care.  If you aren’t sure if you have a work comp case, call us and we can help you figure that out.

Which doctor should I see after I’m hurt?

A really nice guy who is getting screwed over by his company (that’s a whole other story) called me to tell me about his injury and see how he can get benefits.  As often happens, when a potential client tells me about one part of the case it leads to a discussion that is important but not really related to their original call.

Am I confusing you?  Hopefully I can clear it up.

He was telling me the story of how he hurt his back while making a delivery.  So far it’s pretty standard.  He reported the injury right away and filled out an accident report.  Also standard. He was smart enough to get a copy of that report.  Not mandatory, but it’s a good idea to do this.  He then asked them who they wanted to send him to for medical care and they didn’t give him an answer.

That last sentence is where he went off course. When you are injured, your company does have the right to send you to a doctor of their choosing.  That said, you don’t have to ask them if they want to do this.  You also don’t have to wait until they answer you until you see a doctor.  Go see whoever you want to see.  As long as your treatment is related to the work injury, they will have to pay 100% of the bill or more specifically, their work comp insurance carrier will.

It doesn’t matter if you have no insurance of your own.  You don’t need personal insurance for work injuries.  Your insurance is the fact that you were hurt while working.  So if it’s an emergency, go to the ER.  If it’s not schedule an appointment with your primary doctor or a specialist.  If you don’t know any doctors either start at the ER or ask a lawyer their thoughts.  We’ll never insist that you see a certain doctor, but are happy to provide guidance.

A different caller to my office also hurt his back while working.  He waited a month for someone there to tell him who to see.  He then got fired and called me a week after that (five weeks post injury) and said that the pain was so bad that he couldn’t take it any more.  He first didn’t see a doctor because he was waiting to be told who to see and then after he was fired it was because he has no insurance.

By waiting to get treatment he created two problems:  1. It’s likely his condition worsened because it wasn’t getting treated. 2. Now that five weeks has passed and he’s no longer working, it makes it that much harder to prove that his need for medical treatment is related to the original injury.  There are plenty of doctors for hire who would testify on behalf of the insurance company that the delay in medical treatment means that he wasn’t really hurt, so his current problem must be from something else.

So to answer the question, if you are hurt you should see whoever you want to see and you should do it sooner rather than later.

If you have any questions about your medical care or Illinois workers’ compensation in general, don’t hesitate to fill out our contact form to the right of the page or call us at (312) 346-5578. It’s always free and confidential.

IL Work Comp – When You Stand All Day

Recently I attended a training seminar where I stood at a table all day and answered questions.  Mind you that I’m in pretty good shape and work out every day.  This type of activity would be considered sedentary and of course pales in comparison to the hard work done by most of my callers and clients.

But at the end of seven straight hours of standing, my back was really tight and sore.  It wasn’t bad enough to need to see a doctor, but I did pop some Advil for a few days in a row and took it a little bit easier.

The law used to be that the act of standing at work could not injure you because that’s what the general public does all day.  I have no idea why standing caused me pain when I can run for an hour straight without problem, but it did.

Even under the old line of thinking, there were some exceptions.  For example, if you had to wear steel toed boots or other special footwear and got plantar fasciitis, you’d likely win your case.  You’d also win if you have to do a lot of walking on the job.  In fact if someone calls me and tells me that they are on their feet all day, I tell them to get a pedometer or FitBit  which can track their steps.  This can be really handy in showing the true nature of their job duties as can other technology.

About 10 years ago, a case came out called Delores McGee v. Illinois State University. In this case, the injured worker’s job required her to stand for 6½ hours a day, five days a week, and she had done so for over two decades. She testified that she stood on concrete flooring. She testified that she also stood on her toes for a couple of hours each time she had to slice meat. The Commission noted that the Petitioner was standing and walking 87% of the time during her work day. Standing and walking for 87% of the time is a greater risk than that to which the public is exposed. The general public does not stand or walk for 87% of its work day, five days a week.  Moreover, the general public does not risk having to stand on tiptoes for two hours at a time.

Delores likely won her case because of the concrete and tippy toes, but the time on her feet was really important too.  There was another case that influences the law called Kimberly Wible v. Meijer. This case addressed the issue of a Petitioner claiming repetitive trauma to the feet as a result of prolonged work-related weight bearing. In this case, the Petitioner worked as a cashier and then transferred to the cash office. Both positions required standing at least 90% of each 8 hour work day. The treating physician opined that the cause of the bilateral feet symptoms was her standing at work. The Commission found that the Petitioner’s repetitive trauma injuries to her feet due to prolonged standing and walking were compensable.

While Wible addresses repetitive trauma, the Commission also noted that in the past, it has recognized that if an employee is subjected to a degree of walking and standing that is greater than that to which the general public is subjected, that activity constitutes an increased risk of injury and is compensable.  It’s contrasted by a different case called Doggett v. IDOC which went in favor of the employer because the worker only had to stand 20% of the day.  Again, this is where technology can help you.

So if you are standing for one day like me and hurt your back, it’s likely not a case. But if you do it day after day and hurt your back, foot, knees, etc., we’d take your case on and fight for you because the law is on your side.

Something scary for Halloween – Chiropractic care

It doesn’t happen that often, but every now and then we talk to people who don’t want to treat with traditional medicine. I’m not a doctor and I don’t think my way is better than anyone else’s way, at least as far as how I live my life.  If you want to treat your flu more holistically, that’s your call.  As long as it doesn’t affect me or my kids, what do I care?

But when it comes to Illinois workers’ compensation claims, I do have strong opinions as to what type of doctor that you should treat with. Insurance companies have to pay for reasonable and necessary medical care. Fair or not, herbal remedies, healing stones, meditation or other forms of non-traditional care that might work for you are not considered reasonable.

Chiropractic care is considered reasonable, but only to a point.  There are unfortunately some chiropractors who will try and treat their patients 4-5 days a week and run up a huge bill.  They seem to hope that if they bill $10,000.00 that maybe they’ll get half of it.  Arbitrators at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission do not look at this type of care approvingly.

A bigger concern comes with the credibility of opinions by chiropractors.  Again, fair or not, orthopedic doctors are viewed much more favorably than chiros by Arbitrators.  And when I say much more, I really mean, much, much, much, much, much, more.  In fact, I can’t recall one case where the opinion of a chiropractor was viewed favorably over that of an orthopedic doctor.

Some of it has to do with the fact that most chiros don’t get in to diagnostic testing such as MRI’s. It also has to do with there being many back and neck conditions that chiropractic care simply can not treat as well as orthopedic care.  Finally, it’s a lot harder to become an orthopedic doctor so that enhances the credibility of their opinions.  It’s almost like comparing a teacher to a student teacher or a lawyer to a paralegal.

I tell you about this as a warning because while you shouldn’t be forced to see a doctor who practices medicine you don’t agree with, the truth is that you will likely lose your case or at least damage it greatly if you don’t see a more traditional doctor.  Certainly you can’t expect that any Arbitrator would order the insurance company to pay for holistic care or long term chiropractic care.

I’m in the honesty business and every day I piss someone off because I have a policy of never telling someone what they want to hear, but instead always telling the truth. It’s best for everyone on a long term basis.

If you come to me and want to know what I think of you going to a chiropractor, I’d likely tell you that if you just got injured and want to try that for a week or two, that’s fine, but anything beyond that would not be in your best interests when it comes to the case.

Of course there are plenty of attorneys who will tell you what you want to hear and that will probably get you to sign up with them.  It’s great for them in the short term and probably makes you feel really positive too. But in the long run you are likely to be stuck with a huge unpaid medical bill and that’s when you’ll regret hiring that firm.