You Won’t Get Punished For Being A Good Worker

While I know that insurance companies and not employers are usually the ones making the ridiculous denials of Illinois workers’ compensation cases, I’m still surprised when an employer goes along with it.

The most recent example was a case that was rightfully decided in favor of an injured worker.  A custodian at a school was instructed to move furniture, desks and other items from one side of a classroom to the other so the carpets could be cleaned.  After it was cleaned and dry, naturally the items had to be moved to the other side of the room so the other half of the carpet could be cleaned.

The custodian attempted to move a file cabinet with a dolly and while doing so he hurt his leg.  He denied being told not to move any of the heavy items, but two other custodians testified that they were instructed not to move the file cabinets.  In essence, the insurance company took a position that this worker was violating a safety rule when he got injured and took an unreasonable risk.  When you do that you are not performing your job duties and don’t get work comp benefits if you are hurt.

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission saw through this nonsense and rightfully awarded benefits.  Their reasoning was common sense.  The custodian was clearly performing an activity that was for the benefit of his employer and in no way for his own benefit or convenience. He had been tasked with moving furniture in classrooms throughout the school so carpets could be cleaned. Even if he wasn’t asked to move the file cabinet, it was him trying to help that lead to him moving it.  You don’t get punished for being a good worker.

This is way different than him goofing off or not doing his job. If he rode the dolly like it was a vehicle or swung it around in a playful manner, that would be different and likely not a case.  This was just him doing his job as best he could.  In a country where so many don’t work hard are we going to punish those who have a good work ethic?

To me, it’s ridiculous that this case was fought, but this is the system you deal with as an injured worker. Obvious cases aren’t always accepted and even when cases are paid at first, they are always looking for a reason to cut you off.  Fortunately though the laws in our state mostly make sense and the Judges usually do a good job.  So it sucks that this guy had to go to trial, but the system did its job.

If you have questions about this post or any possible case, call us for free any time at 312-346-5578.  We help everywhere in Illinois.

Even Illinois Work Comp Arbitrators Can Get Hurt At Work

In a somewhat unique case, an Appellate Court decision just came out in reference to an injured worker who hurt her knee when she stepped off of a platform where her desk was located.

What made it unique is that the worker, Arbitrator Hagan, is an Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission Arbitrator.  What’s even more interesting is that she lost her original trial and first two appeals before the Appellate Court said that she was at an increased risk of injury and awarded her benefits.

If you’ve ever been to the Thompson Center where Chicago hearings take place, you’ve seen that the Arbitrators sit at desks which are slightly elevated from the rest of the room.  They also have rather narrow passageways.  Those facts combined with the Arbitrator having to repeat these actions multiple times throughout her day lead to her victory.

She’s always been fair to me and on the cases I’ve seen her on, so I’m happy for her.  I’m more happy though because I think it was the right decision. Her stepping down is what is considered a neutral risk because most people have to do that every day.  So to win she had to show that she’s at an increased risk of injury which she was rightfully able to do, due to the narrow area she works in.

A couple of other Arbitrators have filed cases over the years, but it’s certainly not common.  They do work desk jobs and for most the biggest risk is carpal tunnel from too much typing (although a couple of them don’t believe that typing can cause carpal tunnel so it would be interesting to see what they would do if it happened to them).

It does in a way make you feel good about the system in a way given that she lost her original trial.  If they won’t find in favor of an Arbitrator it’s hard for an insurance company to say with a straight face that the system is too worker friendly.

Let’s Talk Settlements

Going with a theme I talk about a lot of lawyers doing things that I can’t believe, a recent caller to my office told me she was unhappy with her attorney.  I asked her why and one of the reasons was that her lawyer said there was a settlement offer.

Why would that make her mad you ask?  Well, he went on to say that he rejected the offer without asking her if she wanted to take it, wouldn’t tell her what it was and when she asked what he was demanding for a settlement he wouldn’t tell her that either.

That’s just about the strangest thing I’ve ever heard and quite honestly I encouraged her to report this lawyer to the ARDC as this attorney should be suspended from practicing law.  It’s law school 101 that an attorney has to convey every settlement offer and can not accept or reject any offer without the approval of their client.

You also shouldn’t be making settlement demands either without consulting your client.  What if I tell the defense lawyer or insurance company that you will settle for $50,000.00 and they offer that only for you to say you’ll only settle for $100,000.00?  Good luck getting them to increase their offer when it looks like they’ve already met your demands.

When it comes to settling a case at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission for any job injury, you usually won’t see a windfall, but no matter the injury, an attorney should be trying to do a minimum of three things:

  1. Get the best possible result for the client. That usually means getting the highest dollar amount, but often also means making sure that future medical needs are considered.
  2. Never settle a case too soon. Once you settle it’s over and the client can’t get any more medical or TTD benefits.  I’m shocked at how many people call me after major injuries and in terrible pain only to reveal that their lawyer settled the case over a year ago even though they were in pain.
  3. Communicate with your client and develop a game plan.  We can’t get you a million dollars if your case is worth thirty thousand max, but we can and should show you how we are getting to that amount and make sure we know what’s important to you.

It’s no surprise that the law firm which was handling this case is the type that handles almost every case that walks through the door and isn’t located in downtown Chicago.  But even then I’ve never in 20 years of being around Illinois work comp claims seen or heard of a lawyer who wouldn’t tell their client about an offer.

Here’s Another Lawyer Lie

We love (and hate) pointing out the things we hear other attorneys are saying to clients to make them think that everything is going to work out alright instead of just doing the work needed to win a case.

The most recent one was from a caller to our office who has been off work since January due to a work related injury, but has not received any TTD benefits.

He needed an attorney and hired one that does a lot of advertising.  What convinced him to hire this Chicago firm was the lawyer telling him that he was good friends with the firm that does the defense work for his employer so it would be an easy problem to solve.

Essentially the lawyer’s lie was “My buddy will sell his client out and not do his job so don’t worry about anything.”

Of course he is full of it.  This is not how any defense firm works as if they did business this way they’d lose their clients. In fact the reason for a lot of unreasonable denial of benefits is because defense lawyers are trying to prove they are “tough” in order to win more business.

I look at winning cases the same way I look at losing weight.  If you want to lose pounds there are a lot of gimmicks out there from drugs, to food fads to magic belts. But the reality is that limiting your calorie intake and getting exercise are proven to work.

In the same vein, you can b.s. a client that you know the defense lawyer or that you are the greatest ever or that your firm scares people. It might sound good to a person who wants an easy fix, but it will get you nowhere in the long run.  Getting the medical records of your client, taking the depositions of the doctors and filing a trial motion are what it takes to truly solve a disputed case.

I don’t get how these lawyers tell these lies and don’t worry about them catching up to them. I guess if you have that type of personality those aren’t things you worry about.

If you have questions about a case or would like our help, contact us any time for a free, confidential consultation. We help everywhere in Illinois.

Why Was My Case Denied?

I started off my career working at two different insurance defense law firms. It’s really the best training you can get to be a lawyer because unlike some attorneys for injured workers, defense attorneys worry about what their clients think.  I was taught how to critically analyze a case and look for hidden issues.

I didn’t stick with that side of the business because some of the insurance companies gave me the creeps and I like helping, not hindering people.  I did learn a ton though, the most important being how insurance companies think and why they do some of the things they do.  It’s really helpful to any injured worker that contacts me.

One of the things I learned as a young lawyer is that an insurance company will deny a case even if they think that if they go to trial that they will lose.  If you think about it, it makes sense.  Insurance companies make money by reducing the amount that they pay per claim.  If they just accept your case then they will pay the full amount.

By disputing a case, the only potential harm is that if it’s so unreasonable they could be hit with a petition for penalties and fees which is an Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission rule that is meant to deter bad behavior by them by adding penalties up to 50% of the amount that is wrongfully denied for medical care and daily fines for improperly denied TTD benefits.

The problem is that once these penalty motions are filed, very few lawyers with good cases follow through with them because the insurance company will roll over if they have no leg to stand on.  If they have any possible defense then a penalty petition isn’t a worry.

In most cases the insurance company or their lawyer will make an analysis that says something to the effect of “we have an 80% chance of losing this case if we go to trial.”  To them that means there is a 20% chance of success, so giving you everything you want is a bad idea.

A recent call to my office highlights this example.  A worker fell on some stairs at his job, but didn’t know what he fell on.  The law in Illinois says that if you have an unexplained fall then your job isn’t responsible for work comp benefits.

A closer look though shows that this worker was rushing to a meeting and carrying a binder.  Supposedly a recorded statement asked him if he knew what he slipped on and he honestly said no.  That was all the insurance company needed to deny the case.  They didn’t ask him further questions that would indicate why he fell because that would have made the case go from a winner for them to a loser.

So they’ll deny the claim and a penalties petition would likely fail.  In the end they will probably lose, but if this worker doesn’t hire an aggressive attorney, they might end up settling for 75% of what the case is worth.

And that is how insurance companies make money by screwing people over.  Sometimes they get even luckier and the worker gives up or puts the claim through their own health insurance.

It shouldn’t be, but often these cases are a game to them and they are good at playing it.  If they can find ANY REASON to deny your case they will and sometimes they’ll do it with no reason if they think you might not do anything about it.  Don’t freak out.  Just get someone in your corner who knows what they are doing and how to navigate the system.

IL Work Comp – What Is Your Lawyer’s Reputation?

There really isn’t a reliable way for your to know what other lawyers think of the attorney you are considering hiring other than to ask around.  Even then, it’s not as if most firms will give an honest opinion because they are worried about it biting them in the butt.

We are happy to tell you what we think of any attorney or firm, even the ones that are not in our state wide network.  There are plenty of great firms we don’t work with on cases, but that doesn’t mean they are great.  There are also those lawyers who take on too many cases and treat their clients like garbage which leads to those clients calling us to look for a new firm.

Some lawyers only have bad reputations when it comes to other lawyers.  In other words, it’s possible their clients like them, but they’ve made a lot of enemies.  Other attorneys make you wonder how they stay in business.

Recently I was sent an e-mail chain that was sent to some Chicago workers’ compensation attorneys who were asking about the reputation of another lawyer with the possibility of offering him a job.  The responses were blunt. Here were the best ones:

He’s a LIAR.

He once hid in the bathroom to avoid talking to me on a case.

He had his associate lie about where he was saying he was in court. I then discovered he was in the office.

Never shows up to court before 10 a.m. (note that Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission court starts at 9 a.m.).

Sells out his clients.

That’s just a sampling, but you get the idea. He was not getting a job offer and certainly isn’t the type of attorney that you want in your corner because they aren’t actually in your corner.

You often don’t know that you might the wrong decision in hiring until it’s too late, but if you notice that your attorney isn’t being honest, doesn’t return calls, yells at you, doesn’t follow through, is often gone, etc. then those red flags should tell you to get a new firm before it’s too late.  It’s not what you should want to happen, but it also doesn’t cost anything to switch.

Most people have good common sense. You don’t have to hire a lawyer you want to hang out with, but you should hire someone that inspires confidence.  There are hundreds of work comp attorneys in Illinois. Some good, some not so much.  Keep looking until you have a good one.

IL Work Comp – The Danger Of Treating With The Company Doctor

We see a lot of tricks and tactics that we try to warn our readers about.  While your injury and life isn’t a game, it can seem that way when you look at it from the standpoint of what an insurance company and some employers will do to gain an upper hand or more commonly, save some money on your claim, the law be damned.

The new trend is by getting injured workers to go to a “company doctor.” Basically you’ll get told that the claim is under investigation, but if you want to treat with their doctor, you can do that right away and they’ll pay for it. Sounds like a good deal, right?

Problem is that some of these doctors are hired guns who are motivated to say that you are fine because the insurance company or employer sends them a lot of business.  If they say that you are hurt and need to be off of work, that will cost their Sugar Daddy some money and then they are at risk of losing a great source of business.

Recently a caller to my office was told that he had a torn rotator cuff.  I’ve had this injury and know that it’s not a short recovery process from my own experience as well as from 19 years of helping injured workers.  It’s a long term injury. Sometimes you get a cortisone injection and feel better until it wears off.  Many people need the simple surgery which requires six months of therapy afterwords.

This caller, however, was told that he could return to work and needed no further treatment.  The insurance company then said the case is closed and that they would be offering a settlement.  Why would they do that? Because if you take the settlement it closes out your medical rights for that injury.  This caller would clearly need tens of thousands of dollars worth of medical care so if they can offer him $5,000.00 to walk away it’s a steal for them.

I’ve heard similar stories from a bunch of callers lately.  The good news is that if you don’t take the settlement offer it’s usually not too late.  The key thing to do is get with your own doctor who will be objective and honest in their medical opinions. You do NOT have to treat with the hired gun the insurance company wants you to see.  They have to pay for the medical bills for your work related injury whether it’s your doctor or theirs.

This is all really sneaky and slimy the way they try to make you believe that unless you go with their doctor they have a right to delay your treatment.  This is how they make money though so it’s not surprising.  Just gross.

 

IL Work Comp When You Have No Health Insurance

We’ve happily seen an uptick of callers who have been injured on the job for the first time. While we wish you weren’t injured at all, I say we are happy because these workers are seeking out information on their rights as workers in Illinois rather than being told what they can and can’t do. Educating yourself is the best thing that you can do in these situations.  Well that and getting medical care.

A few recent callers were very nervous because they had injuries serious enough that they were recommended to see a specialist.  Their concern was that they don’t have health insurance so there would be no way to pay their medical bills.

The bad news is that they are hurt.  The good news is that under Illinois law, if you are injured at work, your employer’s work comp insurance has to pay for 100% of your medical bills.  No co-pays.  No out of pocket expenses. You choose your doctor.

I realize this is basic stuff for someone who has read my blog for a while or been involved in a claim, but I also want to make sure we are a good resource for those who are new to the system. I find that those are the people who get taken advantage of more than anyone else and we want that to stop.

Few other tips:

  • You don’t have to give a recorded statement and you shouldn’t.  It’s only used to trip you up.
  • You have to report knowledge of a work related injury to your employer within 45 days of it happening or if it’s a repetitive injury like carpal tunnel within 45 days of when you knew your problem might be related to the job.
  • You don’t have to prove negligence.  Illinois workers’ compensation is a “no fault” law.
  • It’s probable that a nurse case manager will be assigned by the insurance company to monitor your case. Without a lawyer in your corner they might try illegal things like talking to your doctor directly or trying to block your medical care. Don’t sign anything that gives them this permission. If you do we will revoke it as soon as you hire us.
  • It doesn’t cost anything up front for a work comp lawyer.  Fees are capped by state law at 20% of the settlement we get for you.
  • While you can choose your own doctor, you can’t go from doctor to doctor to doctor.  You should get a referral any time you are seeing a new physician or you might end up stuck with the bills.
  • If you are unable to work, you should get 2/3 of your average weekly wage, tax free, for your time off work. If you are not in a salary job you can bet that the insurance company will play games and try to say you were earning less than you were.  That’s a problem we can solve too.
  • If you work two jobs, in most cases the wages of both places should be included in your wage calculation.

Those are just a few of the basics.  Whether you are experienced or new at this, we are always happy to talk to you.  You can fill out our contact form and we’ll call you right away or call us at (312) 346-5578.  We are based in Chicago, but have lawyers in our network for accidents everywhere in Illinois. You’ll never have to travel to see us and it’s always free to talk.

Happy 4th! We Are Still Open

Have a safe and happy holiday.  Nobody is in the office today, but like any other day we have a 24/7 answering service for when we are out and you can always fill out the form to the right and we’ll call you.  We can’t promise we’ll take your case, but we do guarantee a call back within 12 hours and usually within minutes.

That’s true for the 4th of July, the 4th of August or any other day of the year.  We are all about customer service so you should never feel that it’s a bother to call or e-mail us.  It’s always free and confidential.

If You Are Going To Switch Lawyers …

If you can, your goal should be to only have one lawyer on the case. I say that for no other reason than a bad lawyer can cause you problems, so you want to have a good one from the get go. Sometimes there are communication issues or other hiccups. If that happens you should try and work things out by asking for a meeting.

On the other hand, it does not cost you a penny to switch law firms and if you have a bad one – they don’t return calls, they yell at you, they do nothing to help you, they keep switching the attorney who is handling your case, they lie to you – then you should change as typically those problems don’t get better.

This time of year we see a lot of problems as many attorneys use the summer as a break and neglect their clients as a result.  I’m not saying a lawyer shouldn’t take a vacation.  What I am saying is that you shouldn’t suffer as a result, especially if they are going out of the country.  There needs to be a reasonable backup plan.  This is why most of the lawyers in our state wide network have multiple attorneys at their firm.

Ultimately if you switch or not is up to you.  You don’t have to pay your existing firm anything to leave them no matter what the contract they made you sign says.  Total lawyer fees also can’t exceed 20% no matter how many times you switch (although if you are going to switch, make sure the second lawyer is the right choice, you don’t want to have to seek out a third).

If you are going to switch though, treat it like a band-aid and rip it off quickly. I talked to one woman about six times in seven months on the problems she was having with her current lawyer. She knew she made a terrible decision in choosing them and they treated her awful.  Her legal problems kept getting worse and worse and we had a lawyer who wanted to take her case over and thought he could straighten things out with a little work.

For some reason this caller felt bad about possibly switching which is why she hemmed and hawed so much. Her delay did three things: 1. It made the minor problems in her case worse. 2. It made her health worse because nobody was going to court for her to get her the medical care she needs. 3. It sent a message to her law firm that it’s OK to treat her and others like garbage.

Again, I hope you never have to switch firms, but it does happen many times every single day with other injured Illinois workers.  Do your research, talk to new firms and then make a decision one way or the other.  You have to look out for you and this is one of the best ways to do it.

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