What Should You Expect From Your Illinois Workers’ Compensation Lawyer

A very nice woman who was injured while working and has a garbage attorney on her case asked me, “Am I being unreasonable?” when she told me all of the terrible treatment she had received, the worst of which was being called stupid by her so called lawyer.  What a great guy.

She had never worked with an attorney before and didn’t know that she had rights nor did she know how a lawyer is supposed to act.  With that in mind, I thought about putting together a list of the bare minimum expectations if you are working with a work comp law firm in Illinois. This isn’t a list that makes them a rock star, but is the least you should get.

  • Returned phone calls within 48 hours.  We call back ASAP, usually within minutes, but if they can’t call you back for two days then something is wrong.  They should at least have their assistant call back to schedule a time or e-mail you.
  • They don’t talk down to you.  Being called stupid is beyond unacceptable, but so is having a general attitude of “I’m a smart lawyer and don’t need to tell you anything.”
  • If your case has problems, they explain your options.
  • If you choose an option, they follow through on that option. I can’t believe how many attorneys won’t file a motion for trial when a case is disputed.
  • They don’t try to settle your case without your consent.
  • They will talk to you and not only let you talk to their paralegal.
  • If the attorney who is handling your case leaves the firm, they make sure someone good takes over. A friend of mine watched a court hearing where a lawyer was arguing her client’s position, but wasn’t doing a good job.  She told the Judge, “Sorry, this isn’t really my case, it just got dumped on me.”  That is pathetic and not actually representation.
  • If you are going to trial they prepare you by discussing the questions they will ask you and what you can anticipate the defense attorney will ask.  They also explain what it’s like to go to trial. Going to trial isn’t a scary situation unless you have no idea what is going to happen.
  • Show up to court.

This isn’t a crazy large list nor one that any attorney who cares should have trouble following.  It’s truly the least you should expect.

Questions? Concerns?  Call us any time for free at (312) 346-5578.

Terrible Chicago Work Comp Firm Puts Wrong Body Part On Settlement Contracts

There’s one firm in Chicago who handles workers’ compensation claims head and shoulders worse than everyone else.  I say this because at least once a week I get a call about them from existing clients.  It’s almost always the same story: “My lawyer keeps switching”; “They never call me back”; “They promised me my case was worth $100,000 when I signed up and now they want me to settle for $15,000”.

They are consistent in their terrible customer service so I give them credit (haha) for that.  I don’t get it as they could make so much money with any effort.  Instead they lose clients every week because they are constantly getting fired.

I’m bringing them up because they (allegedly) did something terrible that I have never heard of happening in my 20 years in practice. According to a former client, a young attorney was assigned to his case and got him a settlement, assuring him that it was more money than the case was worth.  Sounds good, right?

The problem was that according to the caller, this young lawyer confused what part of the body was injured and got him a settlement for a finger when the actual injury and surgery was to the wrist. As a result the “great settlement” ended up being for way less than the case should be worth.  The client didn’t notice the problem until it was too late.

He might have a legal malpractice lawsuit on his hands.  He wanted me to open up the case which unfortunately we can’t do. Once it’s settled, that’s it.

Sadly he told me that he wanted to fire these guys a year ago when he got his third attorney from the same firm.  The others either quit or were fired.  He didn’t know that firing your Illinois workers’ compensation law firm is very easy if there has been no settlement offer.

For your sake just beware of any firm which makes promises which sound too good to be true, don’t return phone calls or have high office turnover.  It’s a bad sign and in the end you could get caught up in their inability to properly run a business.

What It Takes To Win An Illinois Workers’ Compensation Case

The two most common questions I get are what is my case worth and do I have a case?  I’ve blogged a lot about the first one (look in our search bar for those posts), but no about the second.

In legal speak, to win a case you have to show that your injury arose out of (your job duties) and in the course of (while working) your employment.  So it might be your job to drive around a factory in a golf cart doing security, but if you go on a joy ride and wipe out you’ll lose the case even if it’s during work hours because you aren’t performing your job duties.

This legal standard can be confusing because there are a lot of exceptions.  For example, if you are eating lunch at your desk and choke to death, it’s probably not a case. On the other hand if you are a traveling employee and have that happen to you while you are eating dinner after a business conference it would likely be a case because your employer is benefiting from your travel and it’s reasonably foreseeable that you’d have a meal where this could happen. Sounds kind of dumb, but that’s the law.

Aside from the standard I described, you also need a doctor in your corner who will state what your injury is and that it’s related to your job duties.  That’s pretty straight forward if you slip and fall on a wet floor and hurt your knee or lift a heavy box and feel a pop in your back. Or at least it should be. The insurance company may still try to fight you or allege a pre-existing condition.

You can’t self diagnose. I’ve had many people who tell me that they know in their heart that their physical problems are caused by work.  That’s not enough. It’s not evidence. You aren’t allowed by law to make medical conclusions in your case.

For example, let’s say you work in a building with bad ventilation and get sick shortly after starting there.  You’ve always been healthy and believe you have some sort of allergic reaction to the chemicals used on the job and by the cleaning crew.  If a doctor doesn’t give you a diagnosis and state that your injury is related to the exposure problems, your case is likely going nowhere.

It’s not brain surgery, but it does take some work by your lawyer and this shows why getting a good doctor in your corner is important.

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IL Work Comp – When You Fall At Work

One myth that I hear when it comes to Illinois workers’ compensation law is the belief that if you get injured at work you automatically are entitled to work comp benefits.  Usually you do, but it depends on the facts.  Your injury has to arise out your job duties and be in the course of your job duties.  This is shown especially when you have a fall at work.

Most falls at work are covered.  If you slip on a wet floor, it’s a case.  If a step is broken and fall, it’s a case. If you are running to a meeting or carrying a bunch of work documents then you’ll win too.  The reason all of those injuries are winners is because you can explain why the fall happened.  You should probably even win if your shoe laces are untied and you stumble over them.

All that said, under Illinois law, unexplained falls are not covered if they happen at work.  In other words, if you are walking and the next second you are on the ground and have no idea why, you will not win benefits.  This is known as an idiopathic fall.  Fancy legal term, right?

The people who get screwed over in these situations are the honest ones. A woman called me after a fall.  She was walking in between buildings at her office and fell down, badly hurting her knee.  It was raining, the pavement was wet, she was in high heels and she was carrying a bunch of documents.  The accident happened so fast that she didn’t think at first why she fell because she was in so much pain.

The mistake she made was that while still in the hospital she gave a recorded statement.  The insurance adjusters are trained to ask questions in a tricky way and in this case they took advantage of her.  The lead her in to stating that she didn’t know why she fell.  And that is likely going to doom her case.

Key point: You do not have to give a recorded statement and should not do that.  Let them talk to your lawyer.  Anything you say can be used against you.  Anything we say is just talk.

Bonus point: We want you to always tell the truth.  If you don’t know why you fell that’s fine if it’s true.  In this case what the woman meant to say was she didn’t know if it was the heels, the wet pavement or the stuff she was carrying, but assumed it was a combination of the three.  So if you do make a mistake and give a statement, make sure you are detailed.

Her mistake could be explained away, but it’s an up hill battle and will have to happen at trial.  It’s a shame because she’s been in the job for many decades, has never had a case and her employer supports her on this.  It’s not their call though, it’s up to the insurance company and they will always fight a case if they can.

Injured Illinois Worker Loses Case Because Of Lawyer

A woman called me with what sounded like a great case.  She works in a job where she types all day and uses her hands.  She got bilateral (both hands) carpal tunnel and has had surgery on each wrist.  One of the surgeries didn’t go well and she can no longer work in her old job.

If this case was a winner it could be worth $200-300k, maybe more.  Unfortunately it’s not a winner.

She had hired an attorney who told her that she had to use a certain doctor.  I’m guessing that they are friends.  The problem is that they doctor the attorney insisted she use regularly does IME exams for insurance companies and makes a lot of money that way.  Essentially he gets paid a ton to say that carpal tunnel is not work related.

So if the doctor said typing caused carpal tunnel on this case, he could lose six figures in business every year.  So he wrote a report which stated that the injured worker had a very serious carpal tunnel issue, but it was NOT in any way related to her job activities.

That’s the end of the case right there.  Sure she has a right to try to get a different opinion, but no Arbitrator is likely to against the opinion of the treating doctor when it goes against you.  It’s no different than the rare occasions that an IME doc finds against the insurance company.

This lawyer should have known that this would likely happen and never told his client to treat with that doctor.  We, as a general policy, never insist clients treat with anyone.  We’ll offer an opinion if you ask, but making you treat with someone can often lead to bad results.  This is just one example of that.

Lawyers should add value.  While in this case the lawyer clearly caused harm, it’s not unreasonable for them to be able to advise you if a doctor could hurt your case.  In fact it’s one of the big reasons to hire an attorney soon after your injured.

In this case it was simply one of the biggest screw ups I’ve ever seen.  And sadly it’s the client who has to suffer.

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Does Your Lawyer Know The Defense Law Firm?

There are hundreds if not thousands of lawyers in Illinois who say that they represent injured workers.  That’s because any attorney can say that they know how to handle those cases, but they don’t have to prove it’s true.  Probably once every two weeks I get a call from someone who hired an attorney and soon there after discovered that their specialty was really divorce or real estate or DUI’s.  Once the case gets tough these law firms are in over their heads and you suffer.

It’s different for work comp defense attorneys. They are hired by insurance companies so they are properly vetted.  As a result, we tend to see the same firms over and over on these cases which is good news for you because it makes their behavior more predictable.

Actually it’s only good news if your lawyer knows what they are doing.

Recently a nice guy called me and asked me if I had heard of the defense law firm on a case.  I had because it was a big time firm that handles a ton of cases and is lead by a guy who has been handling case for 40 years.  Everyone who focuses their practice on work comp knows him.

Unfortunately this worker’s attorney did not know the defense firm.  It’s a bad sign as to how often they are handling work injuries.  That’s different than not knowing the lawyer whose handling the case.  But if you don’t know the firm you aren’t operating with full info.

There are some firms that seem to use a playbook on their cases and they can be ruthless.  They’ll walk all over anyone they can.  Others are great unless you act like an asshole with them.  Others you can’t trust.  Some try to low ball you on settlements.  Some do great at trial.  Some are unprepared.

Knowing this stuff guarantees nothing, but it’s an added piece of the puzzle that can increase your chances for a good result. If they don’t it might be a bad sign and you should consider switching firms before it’s too late.

Bonus tip. If your attorney is friends with the defense lawyer, that is usually a good thing. It’s not likely they are going to sell you out.  Rather it’s more likely that their good relationship will help you if there are contested issues.

Does this make sense?  Any questions or concerns fill out our contact form or call us at (312) 346-5578 for a free consultation.

How To Win A Repetitive Trauma Typing Case

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Repetitive trauma cases are almost denied by insurance companies or at least heavily investigated.  That’s because unlike a specific incident such as a slip and fall or a car accident, it’s not always obvious that doing the same thing over and over caused an injury.

When it comes to typing injuries like carpal tunnel or tendonitis, insurance companies will get a doctor to say you are really hurt because you’re overweight or diabetic or pregnant or that typing doesn’t cause any injuries. Other doctors will say that you type all of the time on your phone and personal computer so there’s no way to tell how you really got hurt.

So with obstacles like these, how do you win a case?

When you do have to go to trial at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, it’s all about presenting credible and detailed evidence. What’s different between these two responses to a lawyer asking you how much do you type every day at work.

  1. A lot. I’d say about 90% of my day is typing.
  2. A lot.  I’d say about 90% of my day is typing.  For the last six years  I’ve transcribed on average 57 letters a day, most of which are at least two pages long, averaging about 325 words.  There is nothing to rest my wrists on so I have to arch them and I noticed pain while doing that which got worse over time.

The difference obviously is the amount of detail provided. A good lawyer would probably ask 7-10 questions that had you discuss the amount of work you did, the force required, the frequency, what you noticed, when you noticed it, how you felt at the end of the day compared to the beginning of the day, etc.

This doesn’t guarantee a win, but it’s what you need to do to win.  Going to trial, especially in a repetitive trauma case, is about painting a picture for the Arbitrator who knows nothing about your situation. You start with a a blank canvass and then fill it in so it’s clear to them what you happened to you.

And that’s not all.  You must paint the same clear picture of your job duties to your doctor so they understand what your activities were and can credibly testify as to how your job caused or contributed to your problem.

We wouldn’t expect you to figure this all out on your own.  That’s why you get a good attorney in your corner and avoid the ones who only dabble in it.

IL Work Comp – Beware This New Lie

The more things change, the more they stay the same, at least when it comes to insurance companies and some employers telling blatant lies in order to discourage injured workers or avoid paying benefits.

The latest one I’ve heard is troubling because I’ve heard it three times in the last month from three different workers in different parts of Illinois.

They’ve all been told that “there is a new law” and now workers’ compensation in Illinois only pays you half of your wage.

That’s not true at all.  There’s nothing that has even been discussed that could make this a law.  It’s not even an alternative fact.  It’s just a bad lie.

How this stuff gets started I don’t know, but it’s certainly by people who don’t have the best intentions for you or your case.

The bottom line for you other than knowing that this isn’t true is that you must understand that the insurance company isn’t looking out for you. Many times your employer doesn’t care about you.  The IME doctor is not there for your benefit.  You have to look out for you.  If you don’t then you’ll get taken advantage of.

IL Work Comp – Who Pays The Expenses On Your Case And What Does That Cost?

This is one of those Illinois work comp law questions that should be answered in one sentence and not worthy of a blog post.  Your lawyer should advance all the costs on a case and will get reimbursed if they make a recovery for you.

If I was going to add anything to that it would be that in most cases the costs are less than $100 and are usually just to get medical records.  If you have to go to trial and take a doctor’s deposition, the costs could be a few thousand dollars.  Again, that money is advance by the lawyer and comes out of the settlement. So if your case was settled for $50,000.00 and the costs were $2,000.00, you’d net $38,000.00, tax free (50k  minus 20% lawyer fee = 40k minus 2k in expenses = m38k).

The reason I’m writing this post is I’ve had a couple of people contact me who have lawyers that have said the injured worker needs to pay for all the costs. What ?!?!?!?!

In one of the cases it was a major injury that had one issue, whether or not the worker could return to work.  If the answer was no, the case would have still been worth around $100,000.00 due to the high wage and severe medical treatment.  In other words, the attorney would have no doubt that they’d get reimbursed their money.  The other case wasn’t worth as much, but the attorney was balking at even paying to get medical records which would have cost around $75.  It’s insane.

All I can conclude is that these lawyers are either broke (bad sign as to how they run a business) or don’t focus on work comp (also a bad sign).  It’s been years since I’ve heard anything like this.

If your lawyer asks you to pay for the expenses in order for them to do their job, tell them no.  It’s a cost of doing business and a risk they should take on if they are willing to handle your case. If your claim was worth $2,500 then of course they shouldn’t spend $2,000 on a deposition. If the case has real value or likely real value then this is their job. Plain and simple.

If they won’t pay the expenses, you should run and get a new firm. It’s not ideal, but neither is having someone who won’t be in your corner or fight for you.  You get one shot at your case and need someone who gives you the best chance for a good result.

Do You Have To Go To A Second IME?

Under Illinois workers’ compensation law, the insurance company has a right to send you to a doctor of their choosing for a one time exam.  Most of you know this is called an IME or independent medical examination.

What happens though if they want to send you to a second IME?  There’s two ways to answer this, one that is pretty obvious I think and the other that until a recent phone call from an injured worker I had never seen happen.  Let’s get the easy one out of the way first.

They can send you to a second IME if there’s been a change in your condition or they are trying to address a different issue.  That usually involves a decent passage of time.  Let’s say that the IME doctor is asked to see you to decide if you need a surgery and if so is it related to your job. He ends up not being a hired gun like many of those doctors and says that yes you do need the surgery and it’s because of your work accident.  You end up with a lumbar fusion and six months later your doctor still has you off of work saying that you are not better.  The insurance company could send you to a new IME to solely address whether or not you can return to work.  They are asking the IME to talk about something new.

When you do go to an IME, it’s generally the case that the opinion of that doctor can be held against them.  So if that doctor says something that goes against them, it’s too bad.  In the same vein if your doctor finds against you, that opinion can be used against you.

This brings me to the crazy story.

The caller went to an IME to discuss whether or not he needed a surgery.  The IME doctor said he did and it was due to the work injury.  In 99.9% of cases I’ve ever seen, that would be that. He’d get the surgery and the case would move on.  End of story.

In this case, the insurance company told the injured worker that they wanted a second opinion on their IME and sent him to a hired gun who said he’s fine.  No surgery needed and he can return to work.  That is, of course, ridiculous.

What’s crazier about this situation is that this caller had a lawyer.  That attorney messed up big time because he should have told his client that he did not have to go to the IME as it was not addressing a new issue.  I assume it’s a lawyer who dabbles in work comp and doesn’t know what they are doing or just doesn’t care.

The good news is that someone could take this case over and probably have the first IME be the deciding factor.  The bad news is that by the time he got to me he’d waited over six months and is without income too.  A crappy lawyer ruined his life and did not protect him.

So to answer the question, usually you have to go to a second IME, but not always.

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