IL Work Comp – Is Your Case Closed?

I’ve written before that legal strategies from insurance companies seem to come in waves.  The one I’ve heard lately for Illinois workers’ compensation cases is that insurance adjusters are saying that your case is closed even though it’s not really closed.

Under Illinois law, a work injury case can be closed in a number of ways.  The most common is that you sign a settlement contract that gets approved by an Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (“IWCC”)  Arbitrator.  At that point you get whatever dollars were agreed on and your rights for that injury are closed forever.  You can’t go back and say that you are still hurting and want medical treatment (unless you have a new accident or show that your job has re-aggravated the old problem) and they can’t say that they now have proof you weren’t hurt at work.

The other way cases get “closed” is if you wait to long to formally file a case at the IWCC.  You have to do that within three years of the accident date or two years from the last payment of benefits (such as TTD or paying a medical bill), whichever is later.  We do see this happen from time to time and have had to tell people that they had cases which would have been worth in the six figures had they filed in time.

What we are seeing a lot of though is the insurance adjuster telling injured workers that they are closing their case. Sometimes it’s in the middle of treatment, more often it’s when the medical treatment is done.  They must see workers falling for it because they wouldn’t do it otherwise.  When you ask for a settlement they tell you sorry, but the case is closed.

That’s not the final word as formally filing a case with a lawyer can “re-open” the case that they said was closed, but really isn’t.  It’s just an insurance trick where they hope you’ll buy it and go away.  This will save them money.  But unless one of the two things we mentioned earlier happens, your case isn’t really closed no matter what they say.

This tactic does seem to be happening more to workers in rural areas it seems based on the calls I’ve gotten.  I don’t know if they are stereotyping those people as less sophisticated or not as aggressive, but whatever the reason it’s ridiculous and hopefully isn’t working.

Please note that they don’t have to offer you a settlement and more and more we are seeing that they won’t if you don’t have a lawyer and if they do make an offer before a lawyer is on board it won’t be fair.  Again this is no big deal because once we file the case we can almost always get a fair offer and if we can’t we’d take your case to trial and get you paid that way.

In a way this all sounds like a game which it probably is to them. It’s not to us though because we know that this is your life, not a game.  The only way we treat it like a game is that we love to compete and will do what we can with our state wide network to get you the best result possible on your case.

Final thought. While we don’t recommend that you sign a severance if you have an active work comp case without talking to a work injury lawyer, you can’t in Illinois sign away your work accident rights through a severance no matter what that document says.

If you have questions about an Illinois work injury or would like our help with a case, please fill out our contact form or call us at (312) 346-5578.  All contacts are free, confidential and you’ll talk to a lawyer who speaks like a human being.

The Biggest Illinois Work Comp Advantage You Have

If you are injured while working in Illinois and it’s more than a short term problem (e.g. you’ll need lots of treatment or surgery), then your accident will of course affect your life.  Call me Captain Obvious.

You should be more concerned about your injury than anyone you know and if you have a good law firm in your corner, your attorney should be a close second.  That means you are paying attention to details, communicating with your doctor and attorney, not missing doctor’s appointments, etc.  It’s not hard stuff.  I don’t want you to be obsessed with your case, but I do want you to treat it seriously.

While a serious injury such as a fusion or one that causes you to lose your career makes it seem like your life is on the line (and it may be), to the insurance company you are just another case name and number. The reality is that your claim is being handled by an insurance adjuster who has your file and 500-1,000 others.  They might act like jerks to you or blow you off, but it’s often because they could really care less what happens to you.  And this is your biggest advantage.

I say this based on an e-mail I recently got that proves my point. An insurance adjuster who handles claims for a very large company was getting a real hard time from his bosses about the number of open cases he had.  In fact they had authorized him to spend a certain amount to close his cases and he was way below that number.  You’d think he’d be rewarded for saving them money, but in fact his job was at risk because he didn’t settle enough cases.

So he, looking out for nothing other than himself, put the word out that he was open for business and willing to settle any case that he had for good money as long as he could justify the settlement if he ever got audited.  So while he wasn’t going to give someone a million dollars if the case was worth between $50-75k, he certainly would give out the $75k.

Just like how you are concerned about your future, these insurance adjusters are concerned about theirs.  What happened to this particular adjuster doesn’t happen to all of them, but most that I know are compensated in part based on how many files they close.

What you shouldn’t do is settle just to settle or too early. If you are getting medical care then you only focus on that.  However, if your case is ready to settle your lawyer should absolutely use to their advantage the fact that the adjuster wants your case closed.  Every day it’s open costs their company money.  So while it may seem like the fact the insurance company treats you like garbage is a bad thing, we can use their lack of care against them and make it a good thing.

If you’d like to discuss a possible case, fill out our contact form to the right or call us at (312) 346-5578.  We have a state wide network of lawyers who handle Illinois work injury cases in every part of the state.

Illinois Attorney Advice – Never Trust A Client. What???

I love talking to other attorneys about cases, strategies, unique situations they’ve been dealing with and just about anything else. The biggest mistake you can make as a lawyer is to assume that you know everything and can’t learn something from others.  I’ve seen a lot of good firms fall apart because they were run by a know it all.

While I know I don’t know everything, I’m also smart enough to have my core values and not change them because someone behaves in a different manner than I do and is successful.  I take a long term approach to everything I do whether that’s making sure to tell you to focus on your health over a quick buck or turning down a potential client who I just don’t get a good vibe with in the beginning (e.g. if you are telling me how you want to kill the insurance adjuster, we probably won’t get along).

Recently I was talking with a Chicago car accident attorney and he said he was having one of those days where it seemed that every client was telling him one story, but the truth was something else and showed that they don’t have a case.  He and I both agree that cases work best when a lawyer is 100% honest and direct with a client and the client is 100% honest and direct with us.  It’s OK if your claim has some flaws, but if you lie to us hoping we won’t find out about it, it’s a problem.

In one of his cases, a client had told him that another car had turned in front of him causing an accident.  Turns out that the client was the one at fault and he cut off the other driver. “Never trust a client” he told me, going on to say that it’s rule #1 and #2 in his office.  It wasn’t said in a joking manner either.

While we both can’t work with someone we catch lying to us, I would never operate under the assumption that I can’t trust my clients and callers. It’s my job or any other lawyer’s job to ask you the right questions.  If you tell me that you were hit by a forklift at work, I’m not going to need to see a video tape of your accident or interview five witnesses in order to believe you.  I feel that most people are good and if I tell you up front to be 100% truthful with me, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt every time.

It would be exhausting to not trust anyone I talk to and it’s not how I want to live my life or run my law firm.  Maybe it’s different for other areas of law; I don’t know as we are focused on Illinois workers’ compensation claims.  I’ll still network with other lawyers and pick their brains.  But I’ll never choose a path that doesn’t make sense for me or anyone who calls me.

If you have questions about an Illinois work injury or want to talk with a lawyer in our state wide network, fill out our form to the right or call us at (312) 346-5578. It’s always free and confidential.

IL Work Comp – Firms Who Take Every Case They Can

We have a philosophy of not getting involved in every case that we can possibly take part in.  If you have a finger contusion or a sprained toe we are not the right firm for you.  When a law firm takes on thousands of cases at a time it often means each lawyer is over worked and often has no clue what is going on with some of their cases.  It also leads to a lack of return phone calls.  When you have 30 phone calls to return after you get back from court and you feel overwhelmed, you end up not calling a lot of them.

The firms that tend to have these problems are big advertisers.  They are on TV, billboards, all over the internet and some even still take on ads in the phone book.  Many of them spend more than $1,000,000.00 a year or more to get all of these new clients.  They aren’t in the customer service business, they are in the client acquisition business.

There is one central Illinois workers’ compensation law firm that is famous for this big spending and the problems that follow.  The head of the firm isn’t a dumb guy from what I hear,  but they spread themselves so thin that it creates a lot of problems.

I was recently told that their “solution” to the big client list that they can’t properly manage is to hire “case workers” to handle the case for the clients.  These aren’t lawyers, but just staffers who can’t give legal advice or at least they shouldn’t.  I’ve been told that you often won’t even speak with a lawyer until it’s time to talk settlement or get ready for trial.

How can this be in the best interest of the client?  It can’t.  You aren’t just a case number on a file.  If you have a serious injury it can feel like your work comp case is your life.  You can’t expect your lawyer to be on 24/7 call.  You should however expect that if you want to talk to your lawyer they will know about you, your injury, your case, your medical treatment and anything else that might be relevant.  Even if a so called case worker is entering what they learn about you in to a data base, that’s not the same as having personal interaction.

Beyond that, if something you tell them doesn’t get entered in to your file it could be really harmful to your case.  There’s also the perspective that you are paying 20% at the end of the case because you got legal help.  Not talking to an attorney until the last second isn’t legal help.

This doesn’t mean that these firms are filled with bad lawyers.  I don’t think that’s true. I just think that if you walk in to a law firm and there are 10 clients waiting in the lobby or if you want to meet with a lawyer, but can’t that it’s a bad sign that the firm has taken on too many files.

By only taking on cases that actually need a lawyer our state wide network of attorneys is able to help more people and deliver real customer service.  If you want to see if we can help you, call us at (312) 346-5578 or fill out our form to the right.

IL Work Comp – When Your Company Goes Out Of Business

A reader sent in a good question:

I work for a company in Chicago and was injured at work.  I’m getting paid TTD benefits, but my company just announced that they are closing so there is no job for me to return to.  Will I still get benefits?  What happens when I don’t have a job to return to?

While a company going in to bankruptcy could affect your case, in most cases if they do that or shut down it doesn’t mean much. Most employers aren’t self insured, but instead carry workers’ compensation insurance.  So even if they go out of business (which happens all the time), the insurance that they had on the day of your accident will still be in place and take care of your payments.

Where it becomes a bigger deal is when you get released from medical care, but have work restrictions and no job to return to.  They would have to pay your benefits while you conduct a job search and might even have to pay for vocational rehabilitation for you.  This would be true even if you would have had a job to return to had your company not closed down.  It’s a great protection for injured workers.

In some cases, the value of a work comp claim can double or triple (or more) because you have restrictions and no job any more.  If you were making a good wage previously and now due to your permanent restrictions can’t find a job that pays a similar amount, you may be entitled to a wage differential payment.

Even when you get a full duty release to return to work, it’s our experience that we can get higher settlements out of cases where a company has shut down.  The insurance company becomes motivated to close out that account because they are no longer getting payments from them.  There is also the issue that it becomes harder for them to investigate a case because they don’t have  manager or HR department to call to ask questions to any more.

The biggest issue we see when companies close is that it can be hard to get wage records because there is no employee around to provide the insurance company with a wage statement. Proving wages in Illinois workers’ compensation claims is really important, especially if you are paid by the hour.  It’s really important for you to keep copies of check stubs or other pay records.

To sum it up, in general it’s business as usual for your case even if you don’t have an employer to return to and in many ways it can be to your advantage.  If you have any questions about this or anything else, call us at (312) 346-5578 or fill out our form to the top right of this page.  It’s always free and confidential.


Here’s One I Just Can’t Explain

I hear all sorts of doozies from people with bad lawyers, but this recent call made me think it was April Fool’s Day in June or something.

A woman called me who had fallen down the stairs.  She was treating with her doctor and everything was working as normal like a good work comp case should.  She then got sent to an IME who said she was fine and didn’t need any more treatment.  Her doctor wanted her in physical therapy.

She called her lawyer and asked if she could still see the doctor and this Chicago work comp attorney apparently said, “No, don’t do that.  It will just make the case take longer.”

I’ll talk to anyone about their case and usually when they tell me something dumb their attorney said it’s more that the lawyer is a bad communicator or a liar.  Often I can explain away what the attorney is really trying to do.  Sometimes that means helping the client realize the lawyer really is fighting for them. Other times it means helping them figure out that they need to cut bait and get new representation.

This one appears to be the attorney just being honest that he doesn’t want to work I guess, but it really makes no sense. Fighting for clients who can’t get the medical treatment that they need is the most common thing we have to do in this job!  I can’t imagine saying what he said to her.

No great words of wisdom in this post. Just a dropped jaw at what a jerk some people can be.

Flexor Tendon Injuries And Illinois Work Comp

A cut or other open injury to the palm of your hand may have felt like just another cut, until you could no longer move or feel your fingers fully. You may have a flexor tendon laceration that didn’t heal properly. I’m sure you are thinking there is no way I lacerated a tendon in my hand by that simple cut, I thought the same thing; but it is true.

Most flexor tendon injuries arise from a cut to the finger, hand or arm. These cuts may seem like something minor that shouldn’t require a doctor’s attention. However, the little amount of damage needed to badly harm the tissue around or the actual tendon can be caused easily in a day’s work by a knife or even broken glass.

As you can see by the above picture, the tendons are vital for finger movement. Any injury will hinder your ability to have a fully functioning hand, and in some cases, the tendon is only partially severed. In those cases, your fingers will still work correctly unless the cut tendon fails to heal and later rips. In other cases, you will know that you cut the flexor tendon because immediately your fingers will no longer be able to bend or straighten.

This type of injury can be problematic, especially if injured on the job requiring a workers compensation claim. Sometimes treatment is rushed causing further damage, and other times it is simply difficult because the most common treatment is reparative surgery. While the surgery is minimally invasive, you may not be able to return to work for 4-6 weeks while the tendon heals. Post-surgery, you may also be required to attend physical therapy to make sure the integrity of the tendon repair. In some cases the treatment and physical therapy could require you to be unable to work for up to three months.

These cases also have settlement value under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act.  The total value of the case depends on your wages, treatment, age and ultimate recovery.  We have a lot of experience with this type of injury and would be happy to help you with a claim.  Please call us at (312) 346-5578 if you’d like a no cost, no commitment, confidential consultation.

Remember, You Don’t Have To Give A Recorded Statement

A better title to this blog post would be that you should never, ever, never give a recorded statement and if the insurance adjuster says if you don’t that your claim will be denied, they are a liar.

There is absolutely no law that requires a recorded statement and the only reason it is done is so the insurance company can try to use your words against you to deny your case.

This happened to a woman who called me recently.  She was going down carpeted steps at work and tripped on a tear in the carpet which caused her to fall.  She shattered her wrist and had surgery.  Sounds like a straight forward slam dunk case, right?

Well this very nice woman who has never been injured at work did not know her rights. She was told a recorded statement is mandatory and when she described the accident to the adjuster she said that she stumbled going down the stairs.  The adjuster then asked a question that made it sound as if this woman tripped over her own two feet and didn’t give her the opportunity to clarify what happened.

If you trip on a defect in the carpet, you win. If you trip because you had a clumsy moment, you lose.  So this dead bang winner of a case is now a loser because the injured worker was a bit nervous and didn’t say things correctly.  We could take her case to trial and the recorded statement would be used against her to make it look as if she was lying.

We would never let a client give these statements.  When we do the talking for you, two important things happen.  First off, nothing we say can be used against you.  That protects you. Second, while we always tell the truth and insist that you do as well, we aren’t going to say anything that will hurt your case.  This also protects you.

You aren’t an expert at giving testimony and shouldn’t be expected to be one.  That’s why before you go to trial your lawyer will sit down with you and go over your testimony so there are no surprise questions.  When you give a recorded statement it’s almost all surprise questions by someone who is trained to trip you up.

I feel very bad for this woman because she is legitimately hurt and is now being denied benefits.  Had she known better this never would have happened.

Remember, if you have any questions about a case or anything to do with IL work comp law, call us at (312) 346-5578 or fill out our contact form on the top right of this page. We help throughout Illinois and talking to us is always free and confidential.

Degenerative Disc Disease & Illinois Work Injuries

A lot of terms come up in Illinois workers’ compensation cases which can be confusing or misleading.  Degenerative disc disease is one such term.

Degenerative disc disease (“DDD”) is not just a condition for older individuals. Degenerative disc disease is a condition that causes extreme back pain that sometimes also includes pain that travels from the back down to the legs. The word “disease” can be misleading to some as it is not actually a disease nor is it always degenerative. So what exactly IS degenerative disc disease?

As you age, there are normal changes that happen to your spinal discs that may cause pain in your back and or your neck. Degenerative disc disease is an umbrella term to describe changes that may occur to your spine like nerve impingement and bulging discs. The discs between your vertebrae work as shock absorbers. When those discs lose their watery content, it causes the nerve openings in the spine to narrow which in turn lessens the effectiveness of those shock absorbers. It can also lead to other spinal issues like spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis in the spine, and spondylolisthesis; all of which cause severe nerve pain, and spinal pain.

However, getting older isn’t the only cause and contributor to degenerative disc disease.  According to one study, the average age at diagnosis was only 34 years old for men and 36 years old for women, with the symptoms and pain getting much worse as the individual ages. There are many contributors besides age to degenerative disc disease. Trauma, motor vehicle accidents, falling, and other physical accidents as well as wear and tear from walking and running, incorrect body movements, poor posture, repeated heavy lifting and heavy physical work,  can all be the cause of degenerative disc disease in a much younger person.

Degenerative disc disease may be hard to diagnose. Your doctor may do a physical exam and look over your medical history. The physical exam may include range of motion tests, numbness and reflex tests, and check for fractures or even infection. Your doctor will probably also send you for imaging tests, but sometimes the imagining such as x-ray and MRIs will not show damage that is equal to the amount of pain you may be suffering from.  The good news is that degenerative disc disease isn’t always debilitating. In fact, many people will be diagnosed and then with physical therapy and strengthening and stretching exercises they feel better and even return to work and other normal life activities. In other cases, a spinal fusion surgery may be needed to ease the everyday pain.

Insurance companies are quick to fight in court blaming DDD for your continued back pain in an attempt to disallow your claim. However, there are many reasons why your job duties may actually be making your DDD much worse which would make it possible to bring a case for relief.  If you have DDD and you have a career that requires you to sit or stand for long periods in the same position, make repetitive motions or even if your job requires high impact activities, it is probable that your job is making your DDD worse.

Aggravation of a preexisting condition such as DDD is covered by workers compensation, regardless of what an insurance company tries to tell you. Even if the work related injury is just a factor in the aggravation of the preexisting condition, you may have a claim for workers compensation for your disability.

If you have DDD or any other injury that you want to discuss, contact us 24/7 for a free, confidential consultation.

Attorney Fees For Illinois Workers’ Compensation

Although it’s state law in Illinois that no attorney can make you pay them an upfront or hourly fee, it seems that every week I talk to at least one person who has been hesitant to hire an attorney because they don’t think that they can afford it.

The short version of what it costs for an attorney is nothing.  We don’t get paid unless you get a settlement or win a trial.  Under Illinois law, that fee is capped at 20% of what is recovered in the end and if you are permanently disabled it can be even less.

The long version requires me to clarify some things. Here are answers to some common questions.

  • Yes there are expenses associated with most cases and the law firm you hire gets reimbursed for those fees at the end of the case. Unlike most areas of law though, these expenses are usually pretty low as there are no court filing fees.  The most common expense is to subpoena your medical records.  In most cases that cost is less than $100.  The biggest expense would be if we have to pay your doctor to give his deposition.  That can run up to $2,000.  No expenses should be made without your approval since it’s going to come out of your pocket eventually. If your law firm wants you to pay the expenses you either have a really bad case or a really bad law firm.
  • There should never be a fee to consult with a lawyer about your case.
  • You don’t have to pay your lawyer if you fire them. Total lawyer fees can never exceed 20% of what is recovered no matter how many firms you hire (although you don’t want to have to switch more than once if at all).  The old lawyer can petition the court to get part of that 20%, but that would be at the end of the case. They can’t make you pay them before you switch or give you a bill for their time.  That’s illegal!
  • In almost every case the 20% comes solely out of the settlement.  There are some firms who (in a shady way IMO) try to take 20% of your TTD checks if your benefits are cut off and they get them reinstated with a phone call or trial motion.  I don’t think this should happen and in the cases we get involved in, we only take 20% off of past (not future as some firms do) TTD if we have to go to trial to get it or really put in a tremendous effort that settles just short of trial. In almost every case our network touches this doesn’t happen.
  • As mentioned above, there is no court filing fee unlike in cases that are actual lawsuits.  So it’s a good idea to get a case formally on file with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission so you don’t have a statute of limitations problem and so you can get closer to the front of the line if your case ever has to go to trial. Older cases get priority over newer cases.
  • In some cases when the case is done you get what is called a Medicare set aside which is money paid by the insurance company to cover your future medical expenses. Your lawyer should not be taking from this payment.
  • Lawyers are going to always want their money when the case is settled and so should you.  A big trend in insurance companies is to convince you to take an annuity which spreads your settlement out over a period of years instead of a lump sum. It makes them money and costs you money.  Unless you have creditors beating down your door or a drug habit, an annuity is usually a terrible idea.
  • Finally, the most frustrating call I get is from a client whose case has been settled, the lawyer has been paid, but then something pops up like an unpaid medical bill. I can’t believe the number of people who call me and tell me that their lawyer told them the case is closed and they won’t help out. That’s the worst customer service!  The lawyer’s fee is to resolve all issues related to the case, even if something pops up after the fact that they didn’t take care of.

Those are the big ones we see.  Please get in touch if you have questions about costs or anything else related to workers’ compensation law.