19(b) petitions and Illinois workers' compensation

If you’ve done some Internet research on how disputes are resolved in an Illinois workers’ compensation case, you may have heard about what’s called a 19(b) petition. Or maybe your attorney has mentioned it, but you want to know more. It’s a great tool for injured workers who need to force payment of benefits.

A 19(b) petition is also called a petition for immediate hearing. You’re asking the arbitrator (who is like a judge) to resolve a dispute in your case. Often, the problem is that the insurance company isn’t giving you the full benefits you believe you’re entitled to receive. If your Temporary Total Disability benefits get cut off, for example, or if the insurance company is refusing to pay for the medical treatment you need, such as surgery, or if the insurance company is rejecting your claim because they say your injury isn’t work related, you could benefit from filing a 19(b) petition. 

As the one making the claim for benefits, you will testify at the hearing. Your attorney will present your case. The other side will present theirs. It’s sort of like a mini-trial. The difference is that your entire case isn’t being decided; it’s usually just one issue that is being resolved.  The goal, for you, is to have the arbitrator issue a decision in your favor and force the insurance company to do what they should have done in the first place.

A 19(b) hearing won’t be the next day, but you will get on the arbitrator’s schedule as soon as possible, usually within 15-40 days. That’s pretty quick in the legal world. You attorney will have to prepare your case, and if you haven’t already filed a formal claim for benefits, called an Application for Adjustment of Claim, you’ll have to do that first. After the hearing, the arbitrator will issue their decision, usually in 30-60 days.

If your benefits were denied or cut off, and your lawyer doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it, ask them about filing a 19(b) motion. It’s a good way to get your Illinois workers’ compensation issue heard and resolved, hopefully in your favor.
 

We are workers' compensation attorneys who help people with Illinois work injuries anywhere in IL via our statewide network of attorneys. Contact us and we will answer your questions or find the right lawyer for your situation.

09/04/13

Knowing the Arbitrators is really important

A downstate lawyer in our network brought up a great point about whether or not to go to trial in a work comp case.  In downstate Illinois they typically rotate the Arbitrators.   This is so there is no perception as to whether or not any of them are too buddy, buddy with any of the attorneys.  The theory is that if we aren’t before them very often, a relationship can’t be established.  This is kind of like whack a mole because it assumes that every Arbitrator and lawyer is unethical and ignores the good parts about everyone knowing each other (mainly that it keeps a nice checks and balance) as well as the fact that we see these Arbitrators at the other court venues too.
 
The Arbitrators were supposed to be rotated on July 1st, but the Chairman of the Work Comp Commission announced that wouldn’t happen until January 1, 2014 at the earliest.
 
So that means that if you have a fair and reasonable Arbitrator on a tough case, it would be really smart to take that case to trial before the end of the year if you can.  On the flipside, if the Arbitrator is not so favorable, it makes sense to wait until 2014.  No point in taking a case to trial if you think that the biggest reason you are going to lose is the Judge.
 
This really makes clear the point of having a lawyer who handles nothing but work comp cases all day, every day.  An attorney that takes every case that comes through the door (e.g. they’ll handle a DUI, divorce, accident, etc.) doesn’t give you the best chance of a good result in your claim nor does it offer the best chance for strategy.
 
One reason we created our state-wide network of work comp law firms is to increase the resources available to clients.  Knowing an Arbitrator can make a difference.  Sharing strategies can make a difference.
 
If your case is in a position to be settled this year, but the insurance company is dragging their feet, ask your lawyer about the Arbitrator and their tendencies.  If they are in your favor, you should really push for a trial.  If you don’t and your lawyer doesn’t, your case may lose value at the stroke of midnight at the end of the year.

 

We are workers' compensation attorneys who help people with Illinois work injuries anywhere in IL via our statewide network of attorneys. Contact us and we will answer your questions or find the right lawyer for your situation.

06/20/13

Illinois workers' compensation arbitrations are harder than ever

A common question we get is, "how long does it take to get a case to trial."  The answer truly varies based on the claim, but in general it's as short as one month and as long as up to six months.  Three months is certainly average if the attorney is working hard.  Overall it depends on whether or not medical records have been secured, depositions of doctors (if needed) have been taken and witnesses (if needed) have been arranged.

Every now and then we'll get this question from an injured worker who will respond with something like, "I haven't been paid for nine months and there is not trial in site."  In almost every situation that is unacceptable, especially if the evidence is in your favor.

Other times lawyers will tell their clients that it takes more than two years to get to trial (lie) or that it's really hard to get ready for trial (lie).  This is usually a sign of an attorney who doesn't want to try a case and sees the client as a number not a person.

All that said, it is now getting harder to get a case for arbitration.  Every month an arbitrator has a cycle of cases that get set on a status call.  If there 1,000 cases, lawyers might request trials on 200 of them or be forced to set a trial date due to the age of the case.  An arbitrator will have on average five days to hear these cases (10 in Chicago, but there are more cases there).

The reality is that if 200 cases get set for trial there is not enough time to hear all of them.  Fortunately cases are most often set to put some pressure on an opposing lawyer or to force discussion.  Less than 10% have any intention of taking a case to trial.

So why is it harder to get a hearing date? The answer is that Arbitrators are being forced to take furlough days which has eliminated some of their hearing dates.  This month for example, if you were hoping for a Wheaton workers compensation hearing on June 10th you were out of luck because our very fine Arbitrator George Andros was forced to take that day off.  He's very hard working and it's not his fault that he's being asked to take time off.  Same goes for all the other Arbitrators.

So there is one less day to get your case heard.   But even with that, an organized attorney should be able to get you a hearing.  And if you are not being paid benefits, the lawyer can file a 19b petition which would put your case at the front of the line.  As long as your lawyer is truly ready.

We are workers' compensation attorneys that help people with Illinois work injuries anywhere in IL via our statewide network of attorneys. Contact us and we will answer your questions or find the right lawyer for your situation.

Workers compensation trials in Illinois

A caller the other day was freaked out because he thought his case was going to trial.  At the last minute, his attorney called him and allegedly said that they were still going to trial, but the injured worker did not need to be there.

News flash, just as you can't have a baseball game without a pitcher, you can't have an Illinois workers' compensation arbitration (trial) without the injured worker present.  It's simply not possible.

I'm guessing what happened is that the lawyer either wasn't honest or didn't communicate very well about what was really happening.  Most likely the attorney was going to either try and have a settlement conference or was simply continuing the case as a courtesy to the defense lawyer.

Either way, I chuckle a bit when I get these calls because while I know of many great Illinois job injury law firms, so many of them are terrible at the customer service end of being an attorney.   They are great with the case and things usually work out fine in the end, but they don't know how to speak with clients.

This caller was smart to investigate something that didn't make sense.  I encouraged him to press his lawyer for a clarification and I believe things worked out between them.  Remember, you are the client so if you aren't getting the answers you need or don't understand what you are being told, speak up!  The lawyer should be direct and honest with you and you should be the same way with them.

We are workers' compensation attorneys that help people with Illinois work injuries anywhere in IL via our statewide network of attorneys.  Contact us and we will answer your questions or find the right lawyer for your situation.

Illinois workers compensation arbitration needs one thing to happen

A reader tells us:

 I injured my back at work  and my case has now been ongoing for 20 months. I hired an attorney shortly after the injury to protect MY interests. My case has been before arbitration 2 times (the 3rd time will be in one week), and each time my attorney has had me wait in the lobby until it was over. Is this normal, or should I be in the room during arbitration?

Every case is different, but an Arbitration of an Illinois workers' compensation case can not take place without the most important person.  YOU!  Sure you need an Arbitrator and a court reporter, but if you aren't there then there is no Arbitration.

What is probably happening is the lawyers are either: doing a pre-trial which is where they tell the Arbitrator what they think the evidence will show if the case goes to trial.  We do this to get his opinions; or the attorney did this because he isn't prepared for trial and is making it appear as if he's working hard when he's doing nothing.

There is value sometimes in having a client show up to the Workers' Compensation Commission.  Sometimes the Arbitrator wants to see you, other times it's good to have you there if we are in settlement negotiations.  But day after day we go to the Commission and see around 100 injured workers, most of whom don't need to be there.  One firm we know seems to have every client show up when the cases are set for trial even though the lawyer knows he won't be proceeding.  It's unprofessional and actually makes the lawyer look bad.

If you aren't getting benefits and have a lawyer, ask them what they need to do to be prepared for a hearing and ask how long that will take.  Then tell them to get the case ready and to schedule your testimony.  That is the only way to actually get to Arbitration.

We are workers' compensation attorneys that help people with Illinois work injuries anywhere in IL via our statewide network of attorneys.  Contact us and we will answer your questions or find the right lawyer for your situation.

 

 

Illinois workers' compensation trials. Sometimes the Arbitrator can sleep through your testimony.

When you hire an Illinois workers compensation law firm, they don't take your case before a jury.  All of our cases are either settled by negotiating with the insurance adjuster or defense attorney or before a trial in front of an Arbitrator.  We go to trial when there are disputes over whether your case is actually a work injury, if benefits you deserve aren't being paid, if there is a dispute over how much your case is worth or if we just want to keep your medical rights open as relates to the injury for the rest of your life.

The trial is usually just your attorney, the other attorney, a court reporter and the Arbitrator.  You can bring a friend for support and the hearings are open to the public, but other than witnesses it is very un-common for more than the attorneys, court staff and injured worker to be there.

While your testimony is important, the most important aspect of most cases is the medical evidence.  This is displayed in your medical records and sometimes by depositions of doctors.  It is also why (besides karma) that we tell all of our clients to be truthful with their doctors, especially in describing how they got hurt.

Early in my career I was with a small insurance defense law firm and was assigned to a trial before an older Arbitrator who has since passed on.  He was a bit ornery to say the least, but some Judges are that way.  The trial started and the injured worker was giving his testimony.  I was taking notes when all of the sudden I heard heavy breathing.  We all realized that the Arbitrator was asleep.  The trial stopped for a moment then kept going.  He slept for a good 15 minutes of what was around 40 minutes of testimony by the injured worker.

I was stunned and if I was the injured worker I would have been furious.  But looking back, both sides agreed that the worker had been hurt on the job, we just disagreed what his injury was worth.  The worker's testimony as to how the accident impacts his life currently was relevant (and the Judge awoke for that), but the background on where he lives, how he got hurt, etc. was not too relevant because his medical records - which hopefully the Judge actually read - told almost the whole story.

We don't think any current Arbitrator would take a snooze during a trial and if it happened to one of my clients I would pause the hearing.  That said, remember that usually medical evidence is what determines these cases when they are in dispute.  It will hopefully help you relax too if you have to testify because believe it or not, you are not the most important witness at a trial.

We are workers' compensation attorneys that help people with Illinois work injuries anywhere in IL via our statewide network of attorneys.  Contact us and we will answer your questions or find the right lawyer for your situation.