Chicago workers' compensation lawyers shouldn't take cases five hours away!

Have you ever been to Herrin, Illinois?  Neither have I.  I’m sure it’s a lovely place and I’ve worked with many injured workers from down in that part of the state. But it’s more than five hours from my office and the only practical way of getting there is to driver, so I’ve never been there.  When I do get calls from that part of the state, I refer them to various law firms that are part of our state wide network of lawyers.  For those downstate firms, getting to Herrin or anywhere else in that region is not a big deal because they live near by.  So if you are hurt downstate, I can help you, but that’s by connecting you with someone good for your case.
 
Beyond that, they regularly appear at those courthouses and know the local doctors who often have to give depositions in workers’ compensation cases.  They know the good ones, the bad ones, the evasive ones and the helpful ones.  All of this information is helpful for you, the client.
 
Recently I was contacted by a worker who is living in Chicago, but was working way downstate when he was injured.  He hired a very reputable law firm in Chicago for work injuries and if the case was in this area, it would have been a great choice.  But the problem was that the case was in a place that they don’t ever go to and certainly don’t want to go to for just one case.
 
So now that the worker’s benefits are being denied, instead of fighting for him, they’ve told him to put all of his treatment through the group insurance carrier from his wife’s employer.  Otherwise they’d have to make two trips downstate for depositions and one or two more trips for a trial.
 
In my opinion, unless you are a lawyer who has a huge amount of cases downstate, you shouldn’t accept those clients.  Refer the case out instead as it’s in the best interests of the client.
 
What often happens is an established firm will hire a young associate to travel to these far off places and pay their dues by spending the night at bad hotels or waking up at 4 a.m. to make it on time for 30 minutes of court time.  So you might think you are hiring a top notch firm, but the reality is that some kid is getting an education off of your case.
 
This actually happened to me when I first started working, way back in 1997.  I was sent to Alton and was really in over my head because I didn’t know anyone at the court, certainly not the Arbitrator who was buddies with all of the local lawyers.  I didn’t have a say in the matter as I wasn’t the boss, but it was not in the best interests of our client.  I vowed never to make the same mistake when I had my own firm.
 
In the same vein, every now and then these downstate lawyers find their way up to Chicago for a case.  Sure they are happy to visit our great city, but again it’s not in the best interests of the client.
 
As a FYI, the location of your case will be based on where the accident takes place.  So you could live and work in northern Illinois, but if you get sent down to southern IL for work and get hurt, any hearing in your case will be down there.  That’s because the evidence as to your accident is down there and the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act rules that determine where your hearing will take place.  So keep that in mind before you make a hiring decision.

How much do you weigh?

When I was young, I was taught never to ask a woman how old she is or how much do you weigh.  I teach those lessons to my children now.  But while I’m working, I ask those types of questions all of the time.
 
I’m not trying to be rude, but rather it’s very relevant for properly analyzing a workers’ compensation and figuring out if it’s compensable and how much it might be worth.
 
If you are diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t ask you how much you weigh.  Obesity is a knows cause of carpal tunnel. That doesn’t mean if you are overweight that you have no case, but it does mean that we are trying to be prepared for any possible defenses that we might have to fight.  Any good work comp lawyer would also ask you if you are diabetic or pregnant as those are two known risk factors as well.  You could have all three of these issues and still win your case.  But most cases aren’t perfect and have some possible defense.  Your attorney needs to be prepared to respond to those defenses.  If the first time they learn that you are diabetic is when you are on the witness stand then they haven’t done their job.
 
Knowing your age is important too.  First off, we can’t formally file a claim without listing your date of birth.  That’s a requirement for the Application for Adjustment of Claim that must be filed with the State of Illinois.  Beyond that, knowing how old you are plays a role in determining what your case is worth, especially if you are not going to be able to return to your old job and have a loss of future wages as a result.  Knowing your age allows to get a proper range of what your case may be worth.
 
To be fair, I’ve never heard someone respond that they were offended by these questions.  Of course, I ask the weight question in a delicate, polite way and explain why I am asking.  So hopefully my grandmother, who taught me the importance of being polite and NEVER asking a woman her weight or age, is proud of me still, knowing that I have a good reason for asking.
 
For you as a client, you should be nervous if your attorney isn’t asking questions about you.  They should get to know you and your case, otherwise how are they going to have a full picture of what you are going through and be able to best represent you?

When do I start to get paid after I'm injured and can't work?

A reader of my blog called in with a good question.  He regularly works at a school from Monday to Friday.  On a Thursday afternoon, right before he was going to leave for the day, he slipped on a wet floor and hurt his back.  He went to the doctor that day and had extreme pain.  The doctor gave him some pain medication, told him to follow up with him the following Wednesday and said he could not perform any work until that time.  He did go back on that date and let the doctor know he was feeling much better so he was released to return to work, full duty.
 
The law in Illinois says that if you are hurt and can not work, you are supposed to begin receiving temporary total disability benefits (TTD) on the fourth day that you miss.  The first three days do not get paid until you have missed 14 calendar days.  After that happens, the first three days are to be paid retroactively.
 
The key word here is “calendar” days.  So for my caller, he missed Friday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  He called me wanting to know if it was worth it to get a lawyer over the one day of work lost that he thinks he is owed.  I let him know that he’s not owed one day, but instead three days.  He was kept off work for six calendar days total.  So based on Illinois law he’s owed three days of TTD benefits.  It doesn’t matter that he never works on the weekend because the TTD pay rate is based on a seven day work week.
 
Whether or not it’s worth it to get an attorney for three missed days probably depends more on the extent of the injury than anything else, but that money is his and he is owed.  Why should the insurance company keep it and he go without pay for those days?  He’s already not getting paid for the other three days that he’s not entitled to under the law and the amount he’s going to receive will not equal what he could have gotten if he wasn’t injured and could work his normal job.
 
This caller didn’t ask, but I also get asked a lot about when the TTD checks should start to arrive.  If it’s obvious right away that you are going to be off work for some time – e.g. you drive a bus and shatter your right let in a bus accident – then you have a right to expect that within two weeks of the accident date the checks will start coming.  Some insurance companies send the checks weekly, others do it every other week.
 
The times that you don’t get paid in a timely manner like this are when it’s not obvious that you’ll be off work for a while or they haven’t been provided copies of your off work slips.  If we or any lawyer in our network was representing you, as soon as you go to a doctor’s visit we’d tell you to get us a copy of your off work slip.  We get it to the insurance adjuster right away so there can be no excuse about paying you.
 
The only other time you can’t expect a TTD check within two weeks of the accident is if there is a legitimate dispute as to whether or not your injuries are work related.  The problem here which often leads to workers getting an attorney is that it’s not unusual for an insurance company to send a letter that says, “We’ve investigated your injuries and have determined that they are not work related as covered by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act.”  Often this letter is just a tactic to hope that you won’t pursue the case any further and will be discouraged.  If it’s a bogus denial, the proper thing to do is hire a lawyer and have them file a 19(b) petition for immediate hearing and a petition for penalties and fees to punish the insurance company for their bad behavior.  Too often they will play games and your life of course is not a game.

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Hot off the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission Presses

 

We have four new Arbitrators and we lost one as Arbitrator Brandon Zanotti resigned in order to become a State’s Attorney.  Below are the biographies of the new Arbitrators per the IWCC.  Somewhat odd in that three of the four are more insurance company oriented per their background.  But until we see them in action as Arbitrators, we of course can have no real opinion on them.  Best of luck to them all.

Governor  Pat  Quinn  appointed four  new  arbitrators to  the  Commission:

Maria  Bocanegra is  an  attorney  at  Katz Friedman,  specializing  in  workers’  compensation.  She  previously  worked  as  a  judicial  assistant  to  the  Honorable  David  Furman  and  as  a  case administrator  for  the  United  States  Bankruptcy Court  in  the  District  of  Colorado. Ms.Bocanegra  was  also  appointed  to  the  Illinois  Department  of  Labor’s Labor  Advisory  Board  in  2013. She  holds  a  J.D.  from  DePaul  University  and  a  B.A.  from  Quincy  College.

Stephen  Friedman is  currently  a  Managing Partner  of  Rusin,  Maciorowski  &  Friedman,  Ltd., specializing  in  workers’  compensation defense. Previously,  he  was  an  associate  and a partner  at  Rooks,  Pitts  and  Poust  practicing  workers’ compensation  and  personal  injury  defense. He  earned  both  a  J.D.  and  a  B.A.  from  the  University  of  Illinois.

Steven  Fruth is  currently  a  trial  attorney  at  the  Chicago  Transit  Authority.    Previously,  he  served  as  a  Circuit  Judge  in  the  Circuit  Court  of  Cook  County  and  as  the  Staff  Counsel  at  Allstate  Insurance  Company.    He  holds  a  J.D.  from  the  John  Marshall  Law  School  and  a  B.A.  from  Southern  Illinois  University.

Michael  Nowak  is  an  attorney  at  Becker,  Paulson,  Hoerner  &  Thompson,  P.C.,  focusing  primarily  on  workers’  compensation  law.    Previously,  he  was  a  partner  in  his  own  firm,  representing  injured  workers.    Mr.  Nowak  has  served  as  an  arbitrator  for  the  St.  Clair  County  Arbitration  Center  as  well  as  a  member  of  the  Judicial  Nominating  Committee  for  the  U.S.  District  Court,  Southern  District  of  Illinois.    He  holds  a  J.D.  from  Northern  Illinois  University  and  a  B.A.  from  Eastern  Illinois  University.

Please  join  us  in  welcoming  these  new arbitrators to  the  Commission.

 

What is your Illinois work comp case worth? Well, that depends

A reader asked us the following:

I was injured three plus years ago. I was 35 on date of injury and am now 39. I underwent six surgeries ending with a total knee replacement.  I am no longer able to have employment in law enforcement and was approved for and am just now receiving medical disability pension. In your opinion, what is a reasonable amount I can anticipate from a W/C settlement?

I know everyone wants to know what their case is worth.  But your goal isn’t really to find out what your case is worth, your goal is to get the most money you can get under Illinois law for your case.  If I tell you that I can settle your case for $100,000.00, that might sound awesome to you.  Who couldn’t use that money?  But if you knew that the case was really worth up to $300,000.00, you’d be furious if you resolved the claim for a low amount.
 
For this reader, I couldn’t possibly tell him what his case is worth without knowing more information.  First off, if he can’t go back to his old job, what job can he go back to?  Why can’t he return to that old job?  What did his doctor say?  Does the insurance company doctor agree or say something different?  What was he earning when he got hurt and how much would he be earning right now under that job?  How does that compare with what he’s currently able to earn?  Has he been offered vocational rehabilitation?  Is this a wage differential situation or is he realistically permanently disabled from returning to any meaningful sort of work?
 
All of these things matter.  I would love to make this person happy and give them a settlement figure, but doing so would be a lie and certainly not in their best interests.  When you have a life altering injury, a detailed analysis is needed to determine what the case is truly worth on a low end as well as on the high end.  A case like this isn’t going to have a set value, but instead will have a range that it could be worth. Our job is to determine that range for you and then get as close to the high end of that range as possible.
 
There are plenty of law firms out there that will let you call them and give you an answer that makes you feel good in the moment, but they are just selling you a bag of magic beans.  Nobody could possibly know what your case is worth without most or all of this detailed information.
 
And while nobody wants to hear it, you’ll never get close to what your case could be worth without legal representation.  There is no requirement that the insurance company even make you a settlement offer at all and if they do, they are always going to try to hit the lowest possible range of fairness for you.  And in many cases they try to make you believe that the AMA (American Medical Association) rating that a doctor will give you is controlling when in fact it is not.
 
Like anything else in life, the more information you can get and we can get, the more accurate of an analysis that will take place and the more likely you are to get the best result possible for you.  And that’s what it’s really all about.  Not the fastest answer you can get, but the best answer.

The basics of Illinois workers' compensation law: Your benefits

Illinois law says that workers who suffer a job-related injury or illness are entitled to benefits. Sometimes, workers have to go after these benefits themselves (ideally, with an attorney), and other times benefits are awarded fairly routinely. A denial of benefits is not the final word – an arbitrator will make the decision in a disputed case.

Many companies in Illinois are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. The employer’s insurance company should pay the following benefits, according to Illinois law:

Medical: All reasonable and related medical expenses should be covered 100%, with no out-of-pocket costs or co-pays. This includes prescription medication, diagnostic tests, treatment, surgery and even physical therapy. Your medical benefits generally continue until you reach what’s called maximum medical improvement, which basically means you are as good as you are going to get.

Lost wages: If you have to miss work while you recover, whether it’s a few weeks or many months, or even more, you are entitled to get paid for a portion of what you would have been making if you were still working. These benefits, which are equal to 2/3 of your average weekly wage, should be paid out regularly. If they stop, or if you are denied, you can request a hearing in front of an arbitrator.

Settlement: When a claim comes to an end, the insurer might make a settlement offer. This is a lump sum that is meant to compensate the worker for the permanency of their injury. In exchange, the worker gives up his or her right to future medical benefits for that injury. Not all cases end in settlement, but many do. If your case ends with a trial, the outcome could be different, with future medical benefits available.

Death benefits: When a worker is killed on the job, his or her surviving spouse, minor children and other dependents are eligible for death benefits.

Other: The law also considers how difficult it can be to re-enter the workforce. You might be eligible for job re-training if your injury makes it so that you can’t return to your old career.

In order to have the best shot at getting your benefits, file a claim as soon as possible. Technically, you have three years from the date of the accident to file a claim for benefits, or two years from the last payment of benefits, whichever is later. But sooner is better. Also, the law says that you must notify your employer of your injury within 45 days.

Don’t let your boss or the insurance company tell you that you aren’t eligible for benefits. Always check with an attorney. An initial consultation should be free.
 

Why is nothing happening in my case?

Delay, in the legal system, is an unfortunate reality in some cases. But there should always be a reason for it, not just the fact that your lawyer is lazy or the insurance company is waiting to see if you’ll just go away. If there’s been a delay in your case, find out why. If you haven’t heard from your lawyer in a while and you don’t know the status of your claim, you should check in. It’s completely reasonable expect a prompt response.

Potential reasons for a delay in your case:

The insurance company is denying benefits. If the insurance company can find a way to deny your claim, they will. Once that happens, the ball is in your court. Many times, the injured worker can successfully get their claim approved by asking for a hearing in front of an arbitrator. Don’t do this without an experienced attorney who knows how to make your case and understands the strategies used by the insurance company. Note that you won’t get this hearing automatically; you have to submit a petition.

You are still in the middle of your medical treatment. If you are still injured and still going through treatment or therapy for your injury, then not much will be changing in your case. You should continue to get benefits, but your claim won’t settle until you are as good as you’re going to get. This is called maximum medical improvement, or MMI.

The insurance company is delaying settlement. If your medical treatment is complete, you might be waiting for a settlement offer from the insurance company. The insurance company doesn’t have to offer you a settlement. Many times they do, because they want to close your case and ensure that you won’t come back later asking for more benefits. However, it’s not unheard of for an insurance company to ignore you and hope you give up and go away. Your attorney should be doing what they can to move things along.

You need a new lawyer. If you aren’t getting benefits and your attorney has not petitioned for a hearing or given you a good reason why they haven’t, then it’s time to have a serious conversation. If you have trouble getting in touch with your lawyer and can’t even set up a face-to-face meeting, it might be a sign that your case is being ignored. You can always get a second opinion, and in some cases, switching attorneys is the only way to solve the problem. The sooner you switch, the better off you’ll be.

 Don’t sit around and wonder what’s going on in your case or stress about a lack of benefits. Call your attorney or set up a meeting so you can get your questions answered.

 

When is a heart attack a work injury?

Not every injury that occurs at work or on the clock is considered a work injury under Illinois workers’ compensation law. It might not seem right that that’s the case, but that’s the law. It tends to make sense when you consider individual examples, although there definitely are cases where claims are denied and we firmly believe it was the wrong call.  It all comes down to whether the injury was caused by your job.

Illinois law says that injuries that arise out of and in the course of one’s employment are covered by workers’ compensation insurance, which means those workers are entitled to benefits. Injuries that fall outside of that category are not. We should point out that there are exceptions and not every case is easy to predict. The facts and circumstances surrounding each individual injury matter a lot in determining whether there is a valid claim for benefits.

Heart attack cases can go either way. Two injuries that look very similar on the surface can end up with opposite outcomes. In order to win your Illinois workers’ compensation case, you have to point to something about your job that increased your risk of the injury you received. If you climb a ladder and fall, it’s pretty obvious that climbing a ladder increased your risk of falling from one. If you are simply bending down to tie your shoe when you experience back pain, it wouldn’t appear that your job contributed to your injury or put you at higher risk.

We get a good number of calls about heart attacks on the job, with the callers wondering whether they have a claim. A fairly common example is a worker who has been doing extreme physical labor in rough conditions – outside in extremely hot weather, for example. The worker ends their work day, and later has a heart attack at home. They’re off the clock and nowhere near work. Still, we see this as a valid claim.

In that example, the extreme nature of the job no doubt puts a strain on the body, creating an increased risk for heart attack. Certainly more of a risk than someone simply out for a walk in hot weather. Other increased risks would be long hours, lifting extremely heavy loads, etc. Also, we are assuming the heart attack happened within a short time after being exposed to the conditions. A heart attack a week later would be a different story and much harder to prove as work-related.

Compare that to an employee who works a desk job and has a heart attack while filling out some paperwork. Even if that person is working long hours, there is really nothing about his desk job that is putting extra strain on his heart.  Or at least not any more strain that what an average person experiences daily at work. A case like this would probably be denied by the insurance company and we would have a hard time arguing otherwise.

We give these examples to help explain the law, but a few additional facts could change the outcome in either. Never assume that you don’t have a valid claim without checking with an experienced Illinois workers’ compensation attorney.
 

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If you aren't telling the truth, we won't represent you

The biggest reason why we don’t represent liars is because it’s simply the right thing to do. It’s also because we value our reputation among arbitrators and insurance companies, as well as our relationship with our existing and future clients.

We aren’t just saying this. We’ve actually refused to take on clients, and even fired clients, because there was a serious issue of trust and honesty. A common example is exaggerating an injury. If you are filing a claim in the hopes of getting a windfall of money, it’s highly unlikely that you will succeed. No lawyer in our network would help you do so. If you find a lawyer willing to go along with your story, then you should question what that says about them.

An attorney who is known for filing claims without merit, or representing shady characters, is going to be known as untrustworthy themselves. The arbitrators, who are the judges in workers’ compensation cases, probably won’t have much respect for you. And the working relationship an attorney has with an arbitrator is an important thing. Trust and respect go a long way and those relationships help or hurt the clients.

We also respect our existing clients too much to put that all at risk by taking on a client who is dishonest or untrustworthy. Our reputation in the legal field affects our clients. It can even affect the way the insurance company deals with us and our clients’ cases.

This brings up a similar issue, which is that we won’t take your case if it doesn’t have any basis in the law. We aren’t saying it’s your fault, but sometimes the law isn’t on your side. Illinois is known for being fairly worker-friendly when it comes to this area of law. We want to help everyone we can. But sometimes it’s just too late, or there isn’t a case because the facts aren’t there. It’s our policy to tell you the truth about whether you have a case worth pursuing. And if we tell you that you don’t have a good case, we mean it.

Just like we won’t represent someone dishonest, we aren’t going to bring a case that isn’t valid. It’s not in your best interest or ours. You’ll likely get the same answer from the majority of workers’ compensation lawyers you call. Maybe you’ll eventually find someone who will take your claim, but maybe they’re desperate for clients or afraid to tell you that you don’t have a case.

The vast majority of injured workers we speak with and help, and those we represent, are honest hard-working people. They deserve the benefits that they’re entitled to under Illinois law, and we truly enjoy our job of helping them get help and get back to work.
 

If you aren't telling the truth, we won't represent you

The biggest reason why we don’t represent liars is because it’s simply the right thing to do. It’s also because we value our reputation among arbitrators and insurance companies, as well as our relationship with our existing and future clients.

We aren’t just saying this. We’ve actually refused to take on clients, and even fired clients, because there was a serious issue of trust and honesty. A common example is exaggerating an injury. If you are filing a claim in the hopes of getting a windfall of money, it’s highly unlikely that you will succeed. No lawyer in our network would help you do so. If you find a lawyer willing to go along with your story, then you should question what that says about them.

An attorney who is known for filing claims without merit, or representing shady characters, is going to be known as untrustworthy themselves. The arbitrators, who are the judges in workers’ compensation cases, probably won’t have much respect for you. And the working relationship an attorney has with an arbitrator is an important thing. Trust and respect go a long way and those relationships help or hurt the clients.

We also respect our existing clients too much to put that all at risk by taking on a client who is dishonest or untrustworthy. Our reputation in the legal field affects our clients. It can even affect the way the insurance company deals with us and our clients’ cases.

This brings up a similar issue, which is that we won’t take your case if it doesn’t have any basis in the law. We aren’t saying it’s your fault, but sometimes the law isn’t on your side. Illinois is known for being fairly worker-friendly when it comes to this area of law. We want to help everyone we can. But sometimes it’s just too late, or there isn’t a case because the facts aren’t there. It’s our policy to tell you the truth about whether you have a case worth pursuing. And if we tell you that you don’t have a good case, we mean it.

Just like we won’t represent someone dishonest, we aren’t going to bring a case that isn’t valid. It’s not in your best interest or ours. You’ll likely get the same answer from the majority of workers’ compensation lawyers you call. Maybe you’ll eventually find someone who will take your claim, but maybe they’re desperate for clients or afraid to tell you that you don’t have a case.

The vast majority of injured workers we speak with and help, and those we represent, are honest hard-working people. They deserve the benefits that they’re entitled to under Illinois law, and we truly enjoy our job of helping them get help and get back to work.
 

What your employer is supposed to do when you get hurt at work

A work injury should always be addressed sooner rather than later. For your part, this means getting medical attention right away. It can preserve your health, as well as a claim for benefits should you need them. You also need to notify your employer, and you should file a claim. As for your employer’s part, they need to file a Form 45 to report your injury.

Form 45 is called Employer’s First Report of Injury, and it requires them to list the details of what happened when you got hurt. It’s not an incredibly complicated form, yet many employers fail to fill one out. This is especially true in a small company that doesn’t have procedures in place to deal with workplace injuries and accidents.

Failure to fill out the form isn’t always an honest mistake, however. Some employers simply don’t care, or they don’t want an official record of your injury because they’re hoping to avoid a claim. If they don’t file this form and they say you didn’t tell them you got hurt, they can try to get your claim denied by the insurance company. The law requires you to give them notice within 45 days after an injury on the job. Form 45 is further proof that you have complied with this rule.

Even if you have a great employer, it doesn’t hurt to be extra cautious and document everything yourself. You never know. When giving notice to your employer of your injury, make a record. Send an e-mail, or write a letter (keeping a copy), that has the date and a brief explanation of what happened. Your notice doesn’t have to be overly formal, and it doesn’t have to be on an official form. Just make sure you give the notice and make a record of it. If you face the frustrating issue of your employer denying that there was notice, you’ll have proof.

Not all work injuries are catastrophic. Some injured workers think their injury is too minor to require going through any process or giving notice. They assume they won’t need medical benefits or payment for lost wages. Some people are embarrassed, or afraid of being fired if they make a big deal out of it. Notifying your employer is a small task, it can be done with a quick e-mail, and it could save your claim if you end up having one. As they say, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
 

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What a good lawyer can do for you

If you are feeling hesitant about hiring a lawyer, you aren’t the first. We talk to people all the time who are unsure of whether they really need legal help. The thing is, hiring a lawyer isn’t that big of a deal, and it can make a world of difference if you’ve been injured at work.

The immediate benefit you’ll get is answers to your questions from someone who knows what they’re doing and who has helped hundreds of injured workers before (make sure this is true of anyone you hire). All of the lawyers we work with share our philosophy of giving clients honest and straightforward answers.

Next, your lawyer will make sure your case is on track. There are deadlines to be aware of, and it’s your lawyer’s job to make sure those deadlines are met. Have you notified your employer? Filed a formal claim requesting benefits? Are you nearing the statute of limitations, after which you are no longer allowed to make a claim at all?

Your lawyer, if they have the experience we’re talking about, will know how the insurance company operates. They’ll know their common delay tactics, how they might attempt to deny your claim and what to expect from them when it’s time for settlement or even trial.

And speaking of trial, your attorney shouldn’t be afraid to go there if necessary. Many, many cases settle, with the injured worker taking a lump sum in exchange for ending their claim. But if the other side isn’t giving you what you’re entitled to, a good lawyer will have the experience and desire to take your case to trial (with your approval, of course).

And finally, a good lawyer will communicate with you throughout all of these steps. Their fee is set by law and is lower than the fees for most other types of injury cases. And you shouldn’t have to pay a fee on your regular benefits payments, only when your lawyer has to work to get you past benefits or a settlement, or a win at trial.

It’s fairly likely that your lawyer will have handled cases similar to yours, which puts you ahead of the game. Honestly, we can’t think of any good reason to not hire an attorney, unless your injury is minor. In our experience, workers who hire attorneys end up with larger settlements than those who go it alone.
 

Updated benefits rates for Illinois work injuries

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission just released new minimum and maximum benefits rates, which they do twice a year. These are the upper and lower limits on the amount you get if you can’t work because of an injury.

You get wage loss benefits called Temporary Total Disability (TTD) if you can’t work while you recover. You also can get TTD if your doctor has given you restrictions and your employer doesn’t have any appropriate work for you. These checks are equal to 2/3 of your average weekly wage. If you earn $600 a week, you would get $400 a week according to Illinois workers’ compensation law. The exact amount varies from person to person, unless the minimum or maximum rate applies to you. 

If you are injured on or after July 15, 1014, the maximum TTD rate is $1,341.07. So, if 2/3 of your average weekly wage is more than that, you don’t get the full 2/3. The current minimum TTD rate is $220. The minimum increases if you have a spouse and children and can go up to $330. If you are below the minimum amount, you will get TTD based on what your actual weekly wages are.  If 2/3 is less than the minimum, then you get the minimum. The exception is that no matter your wage, the minimum for permanent total disability or death applies as the lowest you can receive.

Here is a list of the updated rates as of July 15, 2014:

Temporary Total Disability (TTD)
Maximum = $1,341.07
Minimum = $220.00 (up to $330 if spouse and children)

Permanent Partial Disability (PPD)
Maximum = (will be posted Jan. 2015)
Minimum = $220.00

State Average Weekly Wage
 = $1,005.80.

Permanent Total Disability (PTD)
Maximum = $1,341.07
Minimum =  $502.90

Mileage Rate = $0.56

The mileage rate is what you get if you have to travel to see one of the insurance company doctors, for an IME for example. They need to send you a check for the mileage amount ahead of time. If the insurance company doesn’t pay you, then you don’t have to attend the exam.

It’s important to make sure your average weekly wage is correctly calculated and that you are getting full benefits under Illinois law. Don’t rely on your employer’s calculation or even that of the insurance company. Talk to an experienced Illinois workers’ compensation attorney who knows wage calculations and is familiar with the ways in which insurance companies attempt to get away with paying less than they should.

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A sure sign your case isn't going to trial

Illinois workers’ compensation claims get denied all of the time for the most ridiculous reasons or often without a reason at all.
 
When your case is denied, you have no choice other than getting a lawyer.  If they know what they are doing they will get your case ready for trial which usually means subpoenaing all of your medical records and possibly taking a deposition of your treating doctor.
 
Once that happens the case can go to trial (with the exception being if there was an IME and we need to take that doctor’s deposition). This stuff isn’t rocket science.  Sure, occasionally you have to arrange a witness to attend or have other issues to address, but if you aren’t being paid your benefits, this is what happens.
 
I am writing this post though because recently I got a call from an injured worker who hurt her back after a day of heavy lifting.  It’s a pretty straight forward case on paper.  She has no history of ever treating with a doctor for back trouble.  She went to work and lifted items for four plus hours and at the end of the day she had terrible back pain and told her supervisor about it.  The next morning she couldn’t move so she went to the doctor.  Her doctor stated that she has a work related back injury.
 
The insurance company denied the case because there was no specific injury.  That of course does not matter because back injuries as the result of repetitive lifting are covered under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act.
 
My caller called a lawyer which was a good decision.  The lawyer filed a 19(b) petition which is a request for an immediate hearing and the right thing to do.  A trial date was set.  That’s when it got weird.
 
According to the caller, her lawyer said she doesn’t have to show up for the trial.  Uhm, that means the case isn’t going to trial because if the injured worker isn’t there then there is no case at all.  You as the injured worker will always be the first witness as it’s your job to paint a picture for the Arbitrator as to what happened to you.  Nobody can do that but you.  A lawyer isn’t allowed to testify on your behalf.  An Arbitrator needs to judge your credibility and the defense attorney is allowed to ask you questions.
 
The caller insisted that her attorney told her a trial would happen without her.  Again, that’s possible.  I think he probably meant to say that the case was not ready for trial yet, but they got a court date to put pressure on the insurance company.  Sometimes that happens because it forces the other side to agree to deposition dates.  When they are in the wrong they will often delay.
 
Nobody is more important to the result of any case other than the person that was hurt.  What I told this caller is that she needs to get back in touch with her attorney.  And quite honestly, even if I knew the case wouldn’t go to trial that day, I’d still want you there so we can discuss the case together. It’s also not unheard of for you to give your testimony and then for the lawyers to complete the doctor’s depositions at a later date.  This is your case and your life.  Not having you at the hearing location is a mistake.

When lawyers lie and can't back it up

We were recently contacted by an over the road truck driver who is based out of Georgia, but hurt in an accident in Illinois. Since it happened downstate we referred him to a lawyer down there that has a great track record and in my opinion gives him the best chance for a good result. He also has a long history of success working with truck drivers.

What makes this case a bit different is that before he contacted me the injured worker called and hired a law firm in his town in Georgia. His wages are pretty high, but apparently down in GA the weekly TTD benefit checks are capped at a little over $500. He asked his lawyer if he could get higher benefits in Illinois and was told that he could not.

That was lie number one. While we do have a weekly cap, it’s more than double what it is in GA. Fortunately this man was smart enough to not take his lawyer’s word for it when it came to legal advice in a state he isn’t licensed in. I let him know that in Illinois he could get higher benefits and the fact that he filed a case in his home state doesn’t prevent him from filing here.

I then referred him to the downstate lawyer who had a few conversations with him. The worker is a very smart guy and realizes that he stands to immediately get a higher benefit in IL for TTD payments, both retroactively and in the future. But he was hesitant to switch his case here for one reason. He asked us how much the settlement might be and we told him we weren’t sure yet because he’s still treating and we don’t know what the ultimate outcome will be. He then relayed that his current lawyer told him that the case was worth $150,000.00.

Well, that was lie number two. My partner advised him to go back to the lawyer and demonstrate how he arrived at that figure. He did and of course the attorney couldn’t back up his bravado. We see that in Chicago all of the time where firms will tell you what you want to hear instead of the truth. They expect you to be dazzled by the big numbers and not question the process itself. It must work because it happens time and time again.

The GA lawyer may have told a third lie because he told the client it was important to go to a hearing ASAP. I’m not licensed in Georgia so perhaps it’s true, but when a client is receiving all of their medical and lost time benefits, the only reason to go to a hearing is to lock the case for a lawyer who is trying to earn a fee.

I have always operated under the theory of do what’s best for the client and things will work out, even if we don’t make a penny on the case. Often that means helping you realize that your current representation is doing a great job. Other times it means telling you the hard truth even if it will turn you off and make you look elsewhere for representation.

This liar will live to see another day and b.s. other clients. But I wonder if he ever thinks that his business and karma would be so much better if he was just honest.

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