If your lawyer promises a certain result, they're not being honest

We understand that when a lawyer tells you that your case is work “X” dollars, you feel relieved to finally have an answer. You want to hire this lawyer because they seem to have certain knowledge. After getting injured at work, there are way more questions than answers and you just want to know what to expect. We get it.

 

The problem is that promising a client a particular outcome or dollar amount is misleading, and frankly, it’s dishonest. No lawyer, no matter how much experience they have, can promise you a result. No one can possibly know the value of your case, especially at an initial consultation or the beginning of a claim.

 

First of all, every case is different. Even if your lawyer has handled hundreds of workers’ compensation claims in the past, yours is the first one like yours. Your job, your particular injury, the way the injury affects you, the type of treatment your doctor recommends, the type of surgery you might need, how well you recover and how long your recovery takes, and many other things make your case unique.

 

Secondly, it’s virtually impossible to say what a case is worth until you finish your treatment and see where you’re at in terms of your health and your ability to go back to work. Two workers with similar injuries might not recover in the same way. One might be able to return to their old job, while the other might never be able to work in their chosen field again.

 

We aren’t saying your lawyer shouldn’t discuss possible outcomes with you or tell you whether they think you have a “good” claim. We’re just saying you should be wary of someone who promises anything, makes the outcomes seems too good to be true, or says your case is definitely worth “X.” Are they saying these things in order to get clients? Are they too afraid to tell their clients the truth? Do they not have the experience to know better? We can’t say for sure, but in our experience it isn’t a good sign.

 

When looking for an Illinois workers’ compensation attorney, focus on finding someone with significant experience. Make sure they focus their practice on helping injured workers and not on many different kinds of law. A focused practice often means the attorney has a deeper understanding of that area of law than someone who handles it only occasionally.

 

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The importance of good medical records

One of the best ways to ensure a good outcome in your Illinois workers’ compensation case is to work with your doctor and communicate with him or her about everything. Your doctor’s opinion on how you were injured, the severity of your injury, what your treatment should be, and (when the time comes) whether you are fully recovered, are some of the most important aspects of your claim.

See your doctor right away. Obviously, this is good for your physical health, but it’s also good for your workers’ compensation case. The sooner you see your doctor, the better. Any delay can be used by the other side (the insurance company) to try and deny your claim. For example, if a lot of time passes between your injury and the time when you finally get medical attention, the insurance company can argue that your injury happened during that delay and not on the date you say there was a work incident.

Be honest and detailed when talking to your doctor. The honesty part, we hope, is obvious. It’s too easy for a lie to come out and that can be the end of your claim. You want your doctor to trust you and believe you when you say you are in pain. Also, be thorough when telling your doctor why you’re there. Explain how you got hurt, and tell him or her about your work duties. The reason this is important is because your doctor’s opinion on whether your work caused your injury is key.

 

Don’t see a doctor based on a recommendation from the insurance company. The insurance company is not on your side. To be clear, they are against you. It’s in their best interest for your treatment to be minimal and cheap. Also, the arbitrators (judges in these cases) know which doctors are essentially hired guns, and the opinions of those doctors don’t always carry the same weight. And again, your doctor’s opinion of your injury and recovery is key.

 

You might think we sound paranoid. Unfortunately, we’ve seen all of these things before. Our tips come from experience. The fact that you got injured is frustrating and outside of your control at this point. However, there are many things you can do moving forward that will help you get the best outcome possible. Hiring a good doctor and communicating well with that doctor are two such things. You can also keep a journal in order to remember everything that happened. Getting legal help, if your claim is denied or delayed, is another good way to prevent losing a claim that you should have won.

Settled in another state? You still could settle in Illinois

In almost every type of legal matter there exists a principle that if you settle your case, it's done forever.  So if you get in a car accident in Wisconsin and settle with the truck driver that hit you, you can't turn around and then sue them in Illinois or anywhere else just because their company is based there.

In Illinois, if you settle your workers' compensation case, you can't re-open it at a later date.  But there is a time where you can get more than one settlement.

I'll use the example of a recent caller to my office as an example.  The caller was a truck driver who herniated a disc in his back while making a delivery to Illinois.  His home terminal was in Indiana. That is a terrible state for injured workers, so the insurance company pushed him to get benefits through there even though he also could have brought a claim in Illinois which is a much better state for injured employees.  He had the option to bring the case here because he was hurt here.

His injury was quite serious and he's unable to go back to his old job. He had a recommendation for a back surgery which he ended up not having.  I pegged the value of his case here at approximately $200,000.00 given that he's an older worker and knowing what his wages are.

In Indiana he was convinced to settle his case for $25,000.00.  He thought that was that. He was incorrect.

Unlike any other area of law, there is a rule in Illinois that says only the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission can end your rights to bring a claim in Illinois.  That is true even if you have received benefits through another state, including a settlement. 

In this case let's say that his case really would have been worth $200,000.00.  Since he was already paid $25k for the permanent nature of his condition, the insurance company is entitled to a credit for that amount.  But if he files his case in IL he can get the balance of $175,000.00 paid to him ($200k minus the $25k already paid).

That sounds odd and it is because as mentioned this is the only area of law where this would be possible.

The bottom line is that if you have the right to bring your case in Illinois, getting paid benefits through another state doesn't end your rights here.  That's true even if you've settled your case.  In fact, there was a case years ago where an injured worker signed a settlement contract in another state that said he would give up his rights to bring a case in Illinois.  He still got a settlement here because that contract was not enforceable in Illinois.  Remember, only Illinois can terminate your Illinois rights.

Is this confusing? I get that it could be.  If you have any questions about this or any other area of IL work comp law, contact us at any time at (312) 346-5578 for a no cost, no obligation, confidential consultation.

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UFC fighters hurt in Illinois should file for workers' compensation

Last month, former fighters of the UFC, which is the world's largest mixed martial arts organization, filed a lawsuit that alleged among other things that the UFC unfairly restricted their pay and ability to earn a living.

I think it's nuts that those fighters haven't formed a union, but that's a story for another day.

Reading about the lawsuit made me realize that there is a simpler route to some benefits that current fighters should pursue.  Specifically, they should file a workers' compensation claim if they get injured in a fight.

All of their fighters are considered independent contractors. If that's true, then the UFC doesn't have to pay for work comp benefits for any injuries.  But a closer look shows that just like regular Illinois employees who get hurt on the job and are called independent contractors (falsely) can get benefits, so can these fighters.

The key test to determine if someone is really an independent contractor or an employee that has been mis-classified is to determine what right of control the employer has over them.

A true independent contractor is free to work for who they want to work for when they want to work for them. UFC fighters can only fight for the UFC.  If someone else wants to offer them a million dollars for a fight, they have to say no.

I understand why the UFC would want to restrict the fighters on their roster. If their champion, who they have helped develop and promote, fights against someone else who is not in their organization, it hurts their brand.

But because they have the ability to restrict your earnings, they have control over you.  It's different than boxers who are allowed to fight for various titles from different organizations.  There are other control issues such as the UFC limiting what sponsors a fighter can have on their trunks or them requiring you to participate in promotional events.

And just like a truck driver who is prevented from driving for another company or can't turn down an assignment is not an independent contractor, neither are UFC fighters in my opinion, at least not in Illinois.

We would love to let the Illinois courts determine if we are right.  So if you know a fighter that was hurt during a UFC event in Illinois, we'd love to speak with them.

And if you were hurt while working as an independent contractor, but think you might have been an employee, we'd love to talk to you also.  Too many workers are getting screwed out of benefits by employers that think they have found a loop hole in the system.

Five things you should know about workers' compensation in Illinois

This is probably all new to you, if you’ve just been injured on the job, so here are some things you should know as you look into filing a claim and getting benefits under Illinois workers’ compensation law. 

  1. Your injury has to be related to your job. Not every job injury is covered under workers’ compensation. The law in Illinois says that it has to arise out of and in the course of your employment. This essentially means that it needs to happen while you are working (or doing something related to your work) and it needs to happen because of your work. The second part means that it’s not enough to be at work when you are hurt. Your injury has to be caused by your job duties. The law is fairly worker-friendly, even in cases where you might think you don’t have an eligible injury. Don’t rely on your boss’s advice; talk to an attorney if you want to know for sure.
     
  2. Only employees are eligible. Illinois law guarantees benefits to employees who are injured on the job, not every worker. Independent contractors aren’t covered, nor are volunteers. Part-time employees are covered, however. Also, if you are an eligible employee, then you are covered on your first day. If your employer calls you an independent contractor, don’t assume you aren’t eligible. Many times, an employer mislabels employees. What matters is how the law defines independent contractor, and it might not apply to you. Look into this before dismissing the idea of filing a claim for benefits.
     
  3. There are two important deadlines. Illinois law requires injured workers to notify their employers within 45 days of the date of injury. The law then gives workers three years from the date of injury to file a claim. If you have received some benefits, the deadline is two years from the last payment of benefits or three years from the date of injury, whichever is later. Don’t wait that long if you can help it; sooner is much better in terms of proving that your injury is related to your job.
     
  4. The insurance company has a specific role. Employers carry workers compensation insurance. When an employee is hurt at work, the insurer is the one paying out benefits. The insurance company makes money by paying out less, and it’s important to understand this going in. They might seem helpful, but they are not on your side. If they ask you to give a statement, chances are they will want to try and use it to their benefit and not yours.
     
  5. Hiring a lawyer is easier than you think. Do some research, set up an initial consultation and ask questions. You don’t pay anything for a consultation and you don’t pay anything unless your attorney gets you a settlement or gets you a sum for past benefits you are owed. And even then, your attorney’s fee is limited by law. Your regular benefits checks are completely yours. In our experience, hiring an attorney significantly increases the value of your case.

Illinois law prohibits employees from suing their employers for a work injury. The system of workers’ compensation was set up as a compromise. It protects employers from defending lawsuits every time someone is hurt and it helps employees get compensation more quickly than they would through the courts.

 

Did your lawyer just pass the Illinois bar exam?

I received a call recently from a guy who had developed CRPS which stands for complex regional pain syndrome and is also known as RSD (reflex sympathetic dystrophy).  It was in his arm, following a shoulder injury at work.  His pain goes from his shoulder down to his fingers and he has some classic symptoms such as a color change in his arm and the arm being very sensitive to touch.

The caller had hired a law firm and in a little over a year was assigned three different attorneys.  The first one was fired by the firm.  The second one quit.  So now he’s on to the third one.  He actually said this one is giving great service, but noted that he had only been an attorney since November when he was sworn in after passing the Illinois bar exam.

So in other words, this attorney is being trained to be a lawyer by practicing on his case.  I don’t know anything about this new attorney, but it’s not likely that he has any experience with CRPS and he certainly doesn’t have relevant experience going to trial, taking depositions, reviewing medical records, talking to insurance adjusters, negotiating with defense attorneys, talking to Arbitrators, offering legal opinions or doing anything else.  Maybe one day he’ll be the best attorney our fine State has ever produced.  But right now he is not worth anything.

This new attorney is going to get experience.  But why should that experience come on the back of your case?  He will screw up because all young attorneys screw up at some point.  I know I did.  That’s how you get better. But my screw ups happened when I started my career off defending insurance companies.  If this guy screws up, someone’s life could be ruined.

I know attorneys who have been practicing for 20 years and don’t seem to have a good grasp as to what CRPS is.  It’s not realistic to imagine that this young buck could understand it that quickly.

When you hire an Illinois workers’ compensation law firm, the fee is 20% of what they get for you in a settlement.  You don’t pay more because your lawyer kicked butt and you don’t pay less if they stink.  So why would you get an inexperienced one when it’s not going to cost you any more?

Beyond all of this, there is a huge red flag in that the law firm has high turnover.  In my opinion, the most successful firms are able to hold on to their lawyers because they take good care of them which is usually a reflection that the attorney does a good job.  If it’s not a great place to work, people leave and you are the one that suffers.

We tell people that when they are injured, their focus should be on their health and getting better.  That’s true, but you also need to provide thought in to who is going to represent you.  And I assure you, a fresh faced lawyer just out of school is never going to be the right answer.  They aren’t more “hungry” and they won’t do a better job.  They will use your life to make themselves better for a future client.  And that’s about it.

 

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If I screw you over I'll get Bulls tickets!!!

I could make a lot more money if I had no ethics.  And I’d have a lot more fun.  But instead, I choose to be able to fall asleep at night with a clear conscience.

Every week I get a call or letter from some medical group that says they are looking for a good law firm to help their injured patients with Illinois workers’ compensation cases, but what they really mean is that they want us to send our clients to them.

The worst are the guys that have just graduated from school and have right away started their own practice. There is, of course, no basis for sending anyone to a doctor without any experience. 

But I recently had the pleasure of talking to a slimy manager of a doctor’s practice who talked to me like a used car salesman and didn’t even hide that he had no interest in the health of their patients.  “You and me, we’ll celebrate the first client you send to me by me taking you to a Bulls game.  I’ve got great seats.  How does that sound.” 

How does it sound?  It sounds like you are a slime ball.  I told him the same thing that I tell everyone else that calls me with these offers.  I’ll never require my clients or anyone that comes to us for a referral to see a specific doctor.  It’s your body and while I know a bit about medicine and would certainly tell you if I thought the physician you were seeing wasn’t a great choice, I’d never tell you that you have to treat with the guy that sends me clients or gives me Bulls tix.  I don’t accept any of those offers, ever, because I never want to feel obligated to anyone. 

Beyond that, your doctor is the one that should direct your medical care.  Not all physicians are honest, so if we know that your doc has a reputation for butchering surgeries, we’ll tell you.  But I’m not going to say that you have to go to one reputable group over another.  It’s your life, your health and your body.  These are not decisions I should make.

Of course there are plenty of firms that gladly get involved in these arrangements and let the extra caseload serve as the justification for their lack of morals.  But no matter how you spin it, if there is a tit for tat involved, it’s not a good thing for the client.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t recommend a physician for you if you ask our opinion, but it does mean that we shouldn’t bring it up in the first place.

I heard a rumor that one attorney in Chicago told his client that he had to see a certain doctor that was a buddy of his, but forgot to make sure that there weren’t previous doctors involved in the case.  Illinois limits your choice of doctors so supposedly the client got stuck with all of the medical bills even though the case wasn’t otherwise disputed.  I’ve heard other stories of clients having to drive an hour to see a certain doctor because he “is the best” when of course it’s just the buddy of the lawyer.  How disgusting can you be?

There are literally thousands of doctors in the Chicago area and plenty of great choices downstate too.  Don’t feel like you have to treat with any doctor that you don’t want to be with.  And if your lawyer is really pushing someone on you, grill them as to why.

 

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Illinois work comp - What happens if I'm hurt on my lunch break?

The key to proving that your injury is a work injury (and that you get benefits) is connecting it to your job duties. Look at what your job requires of you, especially things that you don’t normally do in your non-work life. Some situations and injuries are clearly work related. If you are managing a construction project and get hurt by a piece of equipment on the job site, then it’s probably pretty clear that your job caused your injury.

Many cases, however, are less clear, including an injury while you’re on your lunch break. It depends on where you were and what you were doing. If you are at work while on your break, and you get hurt by something in the break room, consider the specific circumstances. If you get hurt using a knife to cut your sandwich, it’s probably not a work injury since most people use knives to cut food every day. On the other hand, if you are hurt by a heavy box falling on you because the break room is also the storage room, then that is a risk most people in the general public don’t face, and there’s a good argument that it would be a work injury.

What if you are injured out of the office on your lunch break? This scenario leaves room for a lot of activities that are completely unrelated to work. However, if you get into a car accident while running an errand for your boss on the way back to the office, it might be a work injury. If you are in an accident driving to a restaurant where you are meeting with clients, that also might be a work injury. Both scenarios are related to doing your job.

There are a thousand different sets of facts and circumstances. The bottom line is that something that seems unrelated might actually be related to your job because of the way the law works. It’s important to note that fault doesn’t matter when it comes to a work injury. As long as it arises out of and in the course of your employment, you should receive benefits, even if the injury was your own fault.

In Illinois, benefits include medical bill coverage, as well as regular checks to replace some of your lost income. Many people also receive a settlement for any permanent injury that remains after their treatment is complete.

Five ways to lose your workers' compensation case

It’s your lawyer’s job to win your case, but you have a larger role than you might think. In short, don’t do these things.

 

  1. Don’t lie. If you lie to your doctor, your boss, or the insurance company, it can really come back to bite you. Be honest about your injury, including how it happened and the problems it has caused you. Be honest about your level of pain and how the injury affects your day-to-day activities. If you get caught in a lie it will hurt your credibility and it could end your case. Know that insurance companies can use surveillance to check up on people who are claiming a work injury. Also, don’t lie to your attorney. It will make their job more difficult, and if they find out, they might drop your case.
  2. Don’t wait too long. You have 45 days to notify your employer of your work injury, and you have three years to file a claim for benefits. If you were hurt while performing duties related to your job, then there is no reason to delay. Being able to prove that your injury is related to your job is a major part of getting benefits. The more time that goes by, the harder this gets.
  3. Don’t hire the wrong attorney. If you hire someone who doesn’t handle work injury claims, then they might not be able to do the best job for you. Instead, we recommend finding someone who handles claims day in and day out. Also, make sure they are respected by other attorneys, insurance companies and the arbitrators who decide disputes in workers’ compensation claims. If your benefits are stopped, for example, someone who knows what they’re doing can file for an immediate hearing and get things started right away.
     
  4. Don’t trust the insurance company. If a representative of the insurance company calls you up and asks you to give a recorded statement, even if their motives seem benign, you should politely decline. If a nurse case manager offers to come with you to your doctor’s appointments, then you should definitely decline. The insurance company is the one paying your benefits, so we get that you want to please them and help move things along, but be careful. We say this a lot, but the best way to handle the insurance company is to have them go through your attorney.
  5. Don’t give up. The insurance company, for one, would love to see you just give up. Sometimes they delay for this very reason. But the law is on your side if your injury was truly caused by your job. It’s unfortunate that anyone would have to fight for benefits that the law clearly says they get, but that is the reality.

On a positive note, injured workers are entitled to 100% coverage of medical bills, payment for some of their lost wages and other benefits if their injury is caused by their job. These are important benefits, and they are attainable. Just beware of the pitfalls.

New hearing locations for work injuries in Illinois

Each Illinois work injury case is assigned to a hearing site. This is the place where the parties will go for a hearing if there is a dispute in the case. It’s also where an arbitrator monitors cases. Attorneys appear at these sites fairly regularly for status hearings on their cases. Claims for workers’ compensation are more like insurance claims than a lawsuit, so you won’t be going to a traditional courtroom.

From time to time the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission makes changes to the hearing locations and/or the arbitrators who handle cases. As of January 1, 2015, there are two new hearing sites: Elgin and Kankakee.

Whether your case will be in these locations depends on where you were injured. Your assigned site generally ends up being the one closest to your accident location. If you were injured out of state, then your hearing site might be the location closest to your home in Illinois. There are other exceptions, but those are the general rules.

The Elgin hearing site will take cases with accident locations in Burlington, Carpentersville, Dundee, Elgin, Roselle, Wayne and others. Kankakee will take cases out of Kankakee, Chebanse, Dwight, Gilman, Momence, St. Anne, Bourbonnais, and other towns and cities in the area. There are many other hearing sites throughout the state, as well. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission publishes a chart on their website that shows which accident locations are assigned to which hearing sites.

Once you file a claim, you will have a status hearing approximately every three months. The hearing is fairly straightforward most of the time. If your case has been going on for three years or more, the arbitrator can force a trial setting. At the status hearing, either side can request a trial. Most times, everything just continues to move forward as it was before.

If you are undergoing treatment or still recovering, and your benefits are being paid, there might not be much happening in your case. It’s not usually appropriate to settle until you are fully recovered or at least as recovered as you are going to get.

If you have an attorney, you are not required to attend your status hearings, although you certainly can. Nobody would want to though as nothing really happens at most status hearings.  Where you are needed is if your case gets set for trial.  Of course, if you have a good attorney they should be telling you these things.

 

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Repetitive trauma and getting covered under Illinois workers' compensation

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, a well known repetitive trauma injury, is generally covered under Illinois workers’ compensation law. This means that if your job causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), then you can file a claim for benefits with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. The same is true of other repetitive trauma injuries, including De Quervain’s, rotator cuff injury, herniated disks, cubital tunnel, etc.

Illinois provides fairly significant benefits for workers who are injured on the job. You should receive 100% coverage of your medical bills, 2/3 of lost income if you are unable to work because of your injury, and often a settlement if any part of your injury is permanent. The catch, if you want to call it that, is that your injury has to be caused by your job.

Repetitive trauma cases come with certain challenges because they occur slowly over time in most cases. The first challenge is proving that your job caused the injury. In order to be eligible for benefits, you have to prove a link. The specific language in the law is that the injury must “arise out of and in the course of” your employment. Because repetitive stress injuries occur over time, you can’t usually point to a single incident that happened at work and say that it caused your injury.

One very important way to address this is to see your doctor right away when you start getting symptoms and explain to your doctor what your job requires you to do. If you don’t give them a good understanding of your job duties, they might miss a link between your injury and your job. Obviously, it’s important to be honest. We’re just saying that you should make sure to be clear.

Another challenge is knowing when to notify your employer or make a claim. There are deadlines based on when you were injured, but the date of injury is often unclear in these cases. As soon as you know your work is causing your injury, report it to your employer and file a claim. If you miss the deadlines, you might lose out on your benefits. You generally have 45 days to notify your employer and three years to file a claim. Sooner is almost always better.

Insurance companies look for ways to deny claims because it saves them money. Repetitive stress claims, because of the challenges mentioned above, unfortunately give them more opportunities for saying no to your benefits. We’re not saying these reasons for denying coverage are legitimate, just the insurance company is likely to try. Also, don’t let your employer tell you that your injury isn’t covered. If it was caused by your job, it’s likely covered.

If your claim is denied, you can request a hearing in front of an arbitrator, who is the judge in a workers’ compensation case. It’s recommended that you have an experienced attorney represent you at your hearing so that you can present the best case possible.

 

This is not the best Chicago workers' compensation attorney

I have told many people that you don’t want to hire an attorney that is too old.  When you see a lawyer in their 70’s or 80’s that is still practicing law, it’s often because they are broke or more typically because they don’t know what else to do with themselves.  When they are practicing because they are bored, we often find that they are half assing it. 

A recent caller to my office demonstrated this problem, but boy did he tell me something that seems beyond crazy.

His original complaint to me was that he calls his lawyer and it’s usually five days or more before he gets called back.  That alone is reason enough to switch attorneys.  But as he went on with the story, I learned that the attorney told him that he could call the insurance company directly if there were any problems such as his check being late or a bill not being paid.  Now this is not a disputed case, but that’s literally the worst legal advice I’ve ever heard.  You don’t want to talk to the insurance company because anything you say could eventually be used against you.  That’s why you have an attorney.  They are supposed to communicate on your behalf and take care of any and all issues.  If not then why do you have them at all?

But that wasn’t the craziest thing I heard.  He told me that he hired this attorney on the recommendation of a lawyer that he used many years ago for a car accident case.  When he showed up to the office to sign up, he noticed the office was messy and there were files all over the floor.  But then he looked around and saw that there were no computers in the office.  Not only did the attorney not use e-mail to communicate, he didn’t have a computer at all.  So any time he needed to write a letter or in this case, fill out an application for adjustment of claim, he had to do it on one of the many typewriters in the office. 

I can’t even imagine that this still exists in 2014.  Every form we use in cases is generated on the computer.  I remember when I was first a lawyer and my secretary used a typewriter.  We can now fill out these forms 10 times faster and if there’s an error we don’t have to whiteout the problem or start over. Why would anyone not use a computer?

Of course it sounds like this lawyer doesn’t have a secretary either which is a whole other problem in itself.

Things only got worse and crazier on this call.  The injured worker was released to return to work by his doctor, but the employer could not accommodate his restrictions.  The insurance company should have offered him vocational rehabilitation, but instead they just sent him to a sham job at some homeless shelter.  When he asked his lawyer about it, the attorney told him that he’d have to research the issue and call him back in a few days.  I’m guessing he has to go to the library and hope that there is a book he can look it up in.

I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but I always write blunt and tell it to people straight.  This guy should not be practicing law anymore.  No matter who you are, you should always hire the best attorney for your case. There is no way he can argue with a straight face that he is the best choice for anyone.

Bottom line is that it comes down to you have to look out for you.  We started our state wide network of attorneys to try and help everyone get a good law firm on their case.  But you have to decide if we or someone else are best for you.  Red flags are usually accurate.

 

Don't settle unless you are ready to be done forever

A Chicago ironworker contacted me recently.  He had worked with the law firm that his union told him to hire and realizes now that it’s a crappy firm and they essentially sold him out for an easy settlement.  His theory, which actually makes sense to me, is that the union lawyer agreed to resolve a bunch of cases at once and settled some for lower than they were worth to push through a bunch of other cases.  Long story short is that he got pushed in to a settlement because he was about to lose his house. He got around $100,000, but it sounded to me like the case could have been worth triple that amount or more, at least if everything he was saying is true.

So he called me, having already received his payment, with regrets that the settlement went through.  He wanted to know how long he had to file an appeal to re-open his case. 

Like everyone else that calls me, I didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear and he was not pleased with the truth.  The law is that once your settlement contracts are approved, your case is done.  Forever.

There is no appeal.  There is no re-opening the case.  His main gripe was that his back was still in need of treatment and he felt that the workers’ compensation insurance company should pay for it.  He would have been right, but they got off the hook when he signed the settlement contracts.

He went on to tell me that the law isn’t fair.  Whether I agree with him or not is irrelevant because lawyers can’t tell you what the law should be, they can only tell you what it is and do what they can to help you within that law.  I had a similar situation with another caller who was upset that her mental breakdown from a verbally abusive boss would not be covered under Illinois work comp laws.  She wanted to know who she could complain to about this and the only real answer is her state senator or rep.

But back to the main point of this post.  If you think your settlement isn’t enough money, then don’t sign the contracts.  If you think you are going to need more medical care, then don’t sign.  If you can’t be happy forever with the result, don’t sign.

Once the contracts are approved, the only way to get workers’ compensation benefits is if you have a new injury.  Anything related to the old injury will be done forever and there’s nothing that even the best lawyer in the world would be able to do about it.

I realize that many injured workers in Illinois are put in to some tough situations by some insurance companies that try to screw them out of benefits.  That’s why having the right attorney on your case is so important. If you don’t have someone that will fight for you, then you have no chance.

 

Did your job put you at greater risk?

We’ve written before about the fact that not every on-the-job injury is considered a work injury for purposes of workers’ compensation. What we mean by that is that you can get hurt at work, but if your job didn’t put you at an increased risk for that injury, then it’s just a regular injury. It’s one of those nuances in the law that can make sense in theory but get really tricky when trying to apply it to your specific situation.

A common example is a heart attack. If you suffer a heart attack while sitting at your desk, the main question will be whether your job put you at an increased risk for that. Anyone can be at risk for a heart attack. The same is true of tripping on your shoe and falling down, standing, sitting, walking, etc. You have to look at whether you were at a greater risk than the risk that the general public faces for the same injury. It’s less of an issue if you were doing something that the general public doesn’t do, like walking on scaffolding or handling dangerous machinery.

We heard about a recent case in which a young worker heard her knee pop when she squatted down to plug something into an outlet. It was a meniscus tear, and the question is whether it’s a work injury that will entitle her to benefits. She was performing her job duties when it happened, which is part of the consideration. But the other consideration is whether the injury arose out of her employment, and that’s where the question of risk comes in.

We bring up this situation to point out how case-by-case this rule can be and how much it comes down to the details. In the case of this young worker with the knee injury, it probably isn’t considered a work injury. However, there are seemingly similar cases that go the other way based on slightly different facts. In one such case, a worker got hurt reaching into a box to take something out of the bottom. Again, he was doing his job duties at the time, but the question was whether he was at greater risk considering reaching is something the general public does all the time. The court pointed out the fact that the box was deep and narrow and that the employee had to stretch and reach into the bottom in order to do his job. The court concluded that it was a work injury.

So unless the woman with the knee injury can prove that she was required to do a lot of squatting or squatting in an unusual way in order to do her job, she’s likely out of luck. In general, workers’ compensation is a great resource for employees who are hurt doing their jobs. Don’t let the details – like the ones above – dissuade you from going after benefits. The law in Illinois entitles you to these if your injury is considered a work injury. You can and should talk to an experienced attorney – someone who focuses on helping injured workers – before making a determination about whether you have a case worth pursuing.

 

What happens when an Illinois employer doesn't have workers' compensation insurance?

I’m not a huge fan of politics or the Government no matter who is in charge, but I’m even less of a fan of someone who breaks the law. 

Fortunately there is an area of the Government that works well when someone breaks the law and that is the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (IWCC) going after employers who do not carry workers’ compensation insurance.

It’s a class 4 felony to knowingly not carry insurance and a misdemeanor to negligently not carry insurance.  Not enough people are going to jail over this, but it can happen.

What happens more is that a business owner will get fined.  The fine is $500 a day with the minimum fine being $10,000.00.  I have my own work comp insurance so I know it’s not cheap, but a ten thousand dollar fine is a real kick in the teeth.  Corporate officers can be held personally liable if the company fails to pay.  Since 2006, the State has collected over $7.000,000.00 in fines so the bad guys are not getting away with it.

Beyond that, the IWCC can issue a stop work order than can prevent a business from operating until it has proof of insurance. 

Your employer has to list the coverage information in an obvious place.  If they don’t or if you think that they don’t have coverage, you can anonymously report them and the State will inspect them.

It’s estimated that over 91% of Illinois companies are in compliance with the law, but there’s no reason that it shouldn’t be 100%.  And just as we get rid of bad lawyers by reporting their dishonesty to the State, if your employer is breaking the law, you should report them too.  It’s in your best interests as well as the best interests of everyone else.

 

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