Illinois Work Comp When You Have Unpaid Medical Bills

A common call for us to get goes something like this:

“I was injured at work in Chicago two years ago.  I went to the ER and told them I was hurt at work. The other day I get a collection notice as it turns out my employer never paid the bill.  I don’t work there any more.  Is there anything I can do?”

One of the first things I advise every injured Illinois worker is to keep a journal which includes the list of EVERY medical provider you see.  Since hospitals bill in a weird way it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll catch every bill out there, but it helps.  I then suggest that within six months of seeing those doctors/providers that you contact them to see if any money is owed.

The reality is though that most people are trusting and when an insurance company or employer says they will take care of a bill, they assume it will happen.  So what do you do when you discover unpaid medical bills?

Under Illinois law, you have three years from the date of an accident to file a case.  So if three years hasn’t passed, you should get with an attorney right away so they can file an Application For Adjustment of Claim with the State.  This prevents you from losing your right to get the bill paid due to waiting too long.

If three years have passed, you need to determine if any medical bills related to your case or TTD benefits were paid in the last two years. If that has happened then your time limit to file has been extended, but you should still act fast.

If all else fails and you’ve waited too long, I’d still contact the insurance company to see if they’ll pay it. Sometimes they will by mistake.

For those of you with active claims already, I highly recommend that before you settle your case that you reach out to every medical provider.  Do not sign a contract until you’ve done that.

If during the case you get a bill, you need to turn it over to your lawyer or if you don’t have representation to the insurance adjuster.  While it’s illegal in Illinois for a medical provider to try to collect from you or harm your credit while you have an active case, you don’t want unpaid medical bills sitting out there for a while. If the insurance company isn’t paying them they have to have a good reason. If they don’t you can file for penalties against them which will force payment  and also result in a fine that will go in your pocket.

Bonus tip, there are no co-pays in work comp cases. So if you get a bill that says the insurance company paid $X and your portion is anything above $0, don’t pay it. There are no deductibles or contributions required on your part.

I hope this makes sense. If you have any questions you can call us at 888-705-1766 any time. We help with work injuries everywhere in Illinois.

Are You Afraid To Bug Your Work Comp Attorney

I recently had an online chat with a very seriously injured worker. He was upfront that he had a lawyer and wanted to know my opinion as to what his case was worth.

I explained that I couldn’t answer it because I didn’t have a copy of his medical records or know about his job duties, age, wages, work history, etc. He went on to tell me that he still needed back surgery.  At that point I let him know it’s impossible to answer his question about what the case is worth. I said that because we don’t know what his ultimate recovery will be.  Whether or not he has any medical restrictions or can return to his job will greatly impact the case value.

The conversation led me to ask why he wasn’t asking these questions to his lawyer. I also expressed concern about whether or not he had the right lawyer for such a big injury.  He told me, “I can call my lawyer, but don’t want to bug him.”

My reply was to tongue in cheek ask this injured worker why he was alright with bugging me. I let him know I was kidding, as I’m happy to talk to anyone, any time.

In the bigger picture though, your attorney is there to help you through the case.  If you have information about your claim or questions about what is going on, you should call or email them. Doing that isn’t bugging them, it’s asking them to do their job.

Customer service or the lack of is one of the biggest issues of the legal profession.  If your attorney doesn’t tell you when you sign up with them that you should reach out to them any time you have questions, it really makes me wonder if they care about you or your case.

What you shouldn’t do is call multiple times a day on a repeated basis.  But calling today and then a few weeks from now and then emailing a week or two after that is really normal, especially early on in the case. And if you are going to an IME or have some other big event, I would expect that you’d call them before it happens as well as after.  Same if you have a surgery.

Whatever the situation, you should never feel like your valid concerns are bugging the lawyer.  They aren’t special. They work for you and this is how they earn their 20% fee. I assure you that if you are calling too much they will let you know.  But if you don’t expect customer service from them, you probably won’t receive it.

Time Limit For Settling An Illinois Workers Compensation Case

You’ve reached an Illinois work injury law firm who are happy to talk to you for free and in confidence about your case. You can fill out our contact form, start a chat or call us at 888-705-1766 to speak with an attorney.

I had an online chat with someone recently who asked a good question. She wanted to know if there was a time limit for settling your work comp case.

This is a different question than is there a time limit to bring a case.  That is known as a statute of limitations and generally speaking is three years from your accident date or two years from the last payment of compensation, whichever is later.

What the chatter was referring to was a case that’s already filed, but is taking forever. She told me that she has a lawyer who she considers to be very lazy.  She’s been discharged from medical care for almost a year and settling the case is the only remaining issue as all of her medical bills and time off work have been paid.  Pretty soon it will be three years since the case is filed.

While there is no time limit to settle, once a case has been filed for three years, it is considered “above the red line.”  Basically that means that every time it is set for status before an Arbitrator (every 90 days) it has to be set for trial unless either party can give a good reason as to why the case is still open. A good reason would be because you are still receiving medical care.  This rule exists to prevent uninterested attorneys like this one from not doing their job. It’s usually a kick in the pants to get things done.

Even with this rule and especially with Covid, there is no guarantee that you will actually get a trial. There is no good reason for the lawyer not to be trying to resolve this case. If the worker stopped treating a year ago, a settlement demand should have likely been made around nine months ago.  If there was no response or the offer made was garbage, the attorney should be pushing for trial.  In this case it sounds like they haven’t even made a settlement demand.

It certainly appears that the worker hired a lawyer who either doesn’t care or doesn’t know what they are doing. The good news is that since an offer to settle hasn’t been made, they can switch lawyers if they want and a more aggressive law firm can likely get this case to the finish line rather quickly.

My tip to people in these situations is to ask your lawyer why a settlement demand hasn’t been made and ask them to lay out their strategy. If one has been made and not responded to, ask their strategy for going forward.  Some cases you don’t want to take to trial, but when all other benefits have been paid, there usually isn’t a good reason not to.

Illinois Work Comp Questions We Will Not Answer

We are Illinois work comp attorneys for injured workers.  Every few months we put together a list of questions we’ve received that aren’t worthy of a full blog post.  In a twist, I thought I’d give a list of some questions we get, some of them often, that we can’t/won’t answer.

I own a company and have a hurt employee. I think they are taking advantage of the system. What do I do?

No idea. We don’t get involved in that.  We are for injured workers only.

I’m not happy with the attorney the insurance company provided my company.  Can I get a new one?

Not something we ever deal with. We are for injured workers only.

What can my company do to legally pay workers as 1099’s so we don’t have to pay for work comp insurance?

That’s gross. Even if we weren’t for injured workers only, which we are, I wouldn’t help you be a tax cheat or screw over your employees.

My company needs to purchase workers comp insurance. Where do I go for that?

This one I know the answer to because I’ve purchased my own insurance, but that’s not what we do.  Call an insurance broker.

Can I fire a worker who got injured on the job?

We are for workers only and if you did that to one of our clients we’d refer them to a labor lawyer to sue you.

 

You get the gist of this. I’ll talk to anyone for free, but I have no interest in advising employers or insurance companies. I started off my legal career as an insurance defense lawyer because it’s great training and it was the job offer I got out of law school. I learned a lot that helps me better advise and advocate for injured workers.  That said, once I realized what the job was, I couldn’t wait to stop helping insurance companies. They aren’t all terrible, but many are and the job is to try and limit benefits that workers are entitled to.

My personality is much better suited toward helping the little guy and being an advocate for justice. I don’t represent people I think are gaming the system or anyone who lies about their injury. But the great majority of Illinois injured workers are honest and just want to get healthy and back to work.  That is who we fight for. Representing insurance companies honestly gave me the creeps. I certainly didn’t feel good about the job.

So anyone can call us for free to ask questions about Illinois work comp law. But if you aren’t the worker,  we are going to refuse to answer your questions.  Injured workers have it hard enough without their attorneys helping the other side.

Illinois Workers Comp When You Try To Work But Can’t

Most of the injured Illinois workers we talk to want to work.  They want the medical care they need, to get better and then get back to life as they know it.

Insurance companies on the other hand, also want injured workers to work, but don’t always want them to get the medical care that they need. And they certainly don’t want to pay for you to sit at home while you get better.

So a common scenario is that a worker gets hurt, their doctor says they can’t work, an insurance company IME doctor says that they can do a light-duty job.  Potentially the injured worker risks having their benefits cut off if they don’t go back to the job. Or they could get injured worse if they go ignore their own doctor and go back to work.

So what can you do?

First off, a lot of times this happens when an insurance company meddles but doesn’t talk to the actual employer. In one case I recently consulted on, a truck driver was told by an insurance company to go back to work after an IME doctor said he could do light duty. In this case that meant that he could only drive short-range trips with no lifting of materials. The problem was that the IME doctor agreed that he needed to continue his medications which by company policy prevented him from doing any driving. So his benefits continued despite the attempted nonsense by the insurance adjuster.

In other cases, we look to see how credible the IME doctor is. Perhaps they didn’t have access to all of your medical records. Maybe they are known as a hack or don’t have a specialty treating your type of injury. We’ve on occasion been successful in convincing the insurance adjuster that if they cut off our client’s benefits that they will get destroyed at trial and hit with penalties.

Sometimes a worker will decide to try and go back to work with a good-faith effort.  If they do and are unsuccessful, we advise them to immediately go back to their doctor and report what happened. This is usually enough to get TTD started.

And in some cases, we draw a line in the sand and take your case to trial.  The insurance company does have a right to make a good faith dispute and if that happens, it’s ultimately up to us to prove to an Arbitrator that your doctor is more credible than the IME doc who saw you for five minutes.  If you are credible on the witness stand you’ll win way more often than you lose.

Bonus scenario.  Every now and then an insurance company will call up your doctor, usually through a nurse case manager, and try to get them to say you can work light duty. If you haven’t given them permission to talk to your doctor it might be illegal. If that’s the case, any opinions the doctor makes from talking to them will get thrown out of court.

Bottom line is that each time you try to work but can’t or are asked to work but shouldn’t, it’s a different scenario.  We are happy to consult with you for free about this at any time. Call us at 888-705-1766 or fill out our contact form and we will call you.

How Does Workers Comp Work In Illinois

We are Illinois workers compensation attorneys who will talk to you for free. Call us at 888-705-1766 or fill out our contact form and we’ll call you.

I like direct people.  I’m very blunt when people ask me questions.  I’ll talk to anyone about an Illinois work injury, but the best calls are when people get to the point.

One recent caller was that way and asked without even saying their name, “How does workers’ compensation work in Illinois?”  I’ve had others ask that to me as well, so I thought it was worth writing about.

Under Illinois law, you can’t sue your employer for negligence if you get hurt on the job. Instead you get workers’ compensation benefits. Simply put, most cases involve the following:

  1. 100% payment of reasonable medical care related to your injury with a doctor of your choosing.
  2. Payment of 2/3 of your average weekly wage, tax free, for the time you are authorized off work by a doctor due to your injury.
  3. When you are all better, the ability to obtain a settlement for the permanent nature of your injury. This amount varies and is based on many factors including your medical care, wages, need for future care, ongoing problems, age and ability to work.

If you get hurt on the job, if you require it, you should get medical attention right away.  When going to the doctor, you should let them know that you were hurt at work as that will affect the billing and make it so they don’t go after you for payment.  Under IL law, you have 45 days from the date you are injured to report the accident to your company. That said, you should let them know about it as soon as possible.

You get to choose your own medical provider and also have the right to a second opinion.  The work comp insurance company can send you to a doctor of their choosing for a one time exam. This is called an independent medical examination.

If there are disputes as to whether or not you were injured on the job or if you need medical care, that is resolved through arbitration at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. Most arbitration hearings only last a few hours and there is no jury.  It’s typical just an arbitrator, a court reporter, you, the lawyers and any witnesses.

When you are all better or as good as you are going to get, your physician will declare you to be at maximum medical improvement.  When this happens and you’ve successfully returned to work, it can be time to think about making a settlement demand.

If no settlement offer comes or it’s not a fair one, you can go to arbitration for that issue as well.

If you do settle your case, it’s important to know that it typically ends your right to medical care payment for that injury. In other words, you don’t want to settle if you aren’t 100% sure you won’t need to go back to the doctor unless part of the settlement includes payment for future medical care.

A couple other tidbits:

  • All workers whether full or part time are covered by Illinois work comp laws with the exception of Federal workers, some farmers and City of Chicago police and firemen.
  • You become eligible the moment you start working.
  • You can’t waive your right to bring a case.
  • Fault doesn’t matter when it comes to work injuries.

These are the basics and there are many other benefits and issues when it comes to Illinois work comp law. And of course there is a lot of advice we have for injured workers. If you want a confidential, no cost consultation with an attorney, reach out to us at any time.

Illinois Department Of Corrections Officer Wins Case Over Excessive Fingerprinting

My last post was about an Illinois work comp attorney who did a terrible job in preparing their client for trial on a claim of injury from repetitive work.

On the flip side, I read a case summary of an Illinois Department of Corrections supervisor whose attorney appears to have done a tremendous job in helping her win the case.

She worked in the Bureau of Identification and part of her job was to fingerprint inmates.  She fingerprinted about 40 people a day.

The last post talked about how the case was likely lost due to the attorney not being prepared or asking enough questions about the worker’s job duties. In this case, however, I learned the following from the case summary, all of which came out in testimony:

  • Her office had a counter that measured chest high.
  • Inmates stood on the other side of her as she fingerprinted them.
  • The counter was about four and a half feet tall.
  • All individuals coming into the facility were fingerprinted.
  • It required her to use a large paper cutter with a large blade to cut the paper.
  • She would roll all ten fingers on a fingerprint card.
  • There were 14 motions in fingerprinting and that number would be doubled because each finger was rolled in ink and then on the card.
  • She also used the paper cutter to cut up old ID’s, used a hole puncher for mug shots, made ID’s, issued reports, assembled files, and took DNA samples.

That is a lot of detail, and all of it, along with her medical records, went in support of her claim that her elbow injury and carpal tunnel were caused in part by her job duties. And by the way, she also had done this over a 30 year period.

This is a great example of a law firm being very prepared and making sure that their client is as well. It’s as much detail as you’d see in any case, and it’s why she won the case.

In the last post, I talked about the fact that the injured worker hired a law firm that doesn’t focus on work comp cases. In this case, the attorney is at a well regarded Chicago law firm that mostly handles work injury cases in Illinois and has a track record of success.  I’m quite confident that if the worker had hired a bad firm, she would have lost her case.

It’s doubly impressive because the State of Illinois loves to fight work comp cases, especially ones that involve repetitive activities. So score one for the good guys, thanks to a worker who was smart enough to hire the right law firm.

We are work injury attorneys with over 20 years of experience. If you’d like to speak with a lawyer for free, call us at 312-346-5578 or fill out our contact form and we will call you.

Bad Attorneys Lose Illinois Workers Compensation Trials

There are a lot of Illinois attorneys who say that they handle workers’ compensation cases. There are not as many who are actually trying cases all the time and going to the mat for their clients.

If you take cases to trial, you won’t win them all. Quite often, attorneys will take cases with big injuries to trial when they haven’t gotten a good settlement offer.  If the difference between winning at trial or taking the offer is significant, it’s often worth it to take your chances.

In Illinois work comp trials, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but most often it’s in between. If I think my client is owed 30 weeks of TTD benefits and should get an award of $75,000.00, and if the Arbitrator says my client should get 25 weeks of TTD and an award of $60,000.00, I didn’t get everything I want, but I didn’t lose either.

In other cases, the sole issue may be whether or not your injury is work related.  Those trials often have a clear cut winner and loser.

You can’t always blame the lawyer if you don’t win the case. Sometimes the Arbitrator is really friendly to employers.  Other times the facts aren’t as strong as you’d like them to be. But there are certainly times when the attorney for the injured worker is so unprepared that it changes the end result.

I thought of this when I read about a sales manager who lost her trial. She was claiming that repetitive activities on the job caused her to get a stress fracture in her foot. In reading the case summary of what happened, it appears she didn’t submit any testimony that supported her doctor’s claim that she had to be on her feet 12-18 hours per day.

When I say that, what it means is that her lawyer didn’t ask her under oath how often she was on her feet, how far she walked, what pain she noticed while doing that or apparently anything else that would back up her doctor’s notes.

This sounds like, to me, very bad preparation by the handling attorney. Before you go to trial, you must have a written list of questions you are going to ask your client and do a practice run through with them. I can’t imagine any case where you are trying to allege that repetitive activities caused your injury and not going over in great detail what those activities are. Yet, here we are.

I looked up the firm that handled this case and had never heard of them. Under their list of practice areas while it mentioned work comp, it also mentioned criminal defense, municipal law, labor law and product liability.  To me that’s a red flag and not the type of profile you’d want from a firm that has to go to trial on a contested work injury case.

Sadly for the worker who ended up with nothing, there was no way she could know that her attorney wasn’t going to ask the right questions.  Why they were seemingly so unprepared is anyone’s guess.  That said, I’ve seen trials where attorneys had no idea of the facts of the case and were clearly making up questions as they went along.

If your case is going to trial, you should insist that your lawyer does a practice run through with you. And quite honestly, if they aren’t suggesting it, then you probably have the wrong lawyer.

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Doctor

If you are injured at work, your workers’ compensation doctor will have a very big impact on your workers’ compensation claim. Your doctor will greatly influence:

  1. What kind of treatment you should receive.
  2. How long you should be off of work.
  3. How your injury will affect you for years down the road.

Now, remember that the doctor has two interests in mind: the patient and the insurance company. As an injured worker and patient, you are, first and foremost, looking for the right treatment that will get you as healthy as possible. The insurance company might want treatment for you too, but may prefer more conservative options. The insurance company may also want you to get back to work before you are ready.

How you approach your visit(s) with the doctor is critical. The information you share will impact his/her opinion and important decisions regarding your treatment. Here are two points to follow:

  1. Don’t Lie

This should go without saying, but don’t lie about previous injuries. Don’t lie about pre-existing medical conditions or treatments.

  1. Don’t Exaggerate

Along those same lines, do not exaggerate or play down your symptoms. Be honest about the level of pain that you are experiencing and at what level you are functioning.

Besides being the “right” thing to do, why is it important not to lie or exaggerate to the doctor? Well, if a doctor can’t trust what you’re saying, it is much more difficult for him/her to give you the proper care. In addition, your medical records show your full history, so if you downplay past injuries and your records say otherwise, you look untrustworthy.

If there is a dispute decided by a workers’ compensation arbitrator, he/she will consider your credibility. An arbitrator will be less likely to side with you if your medical records show that you’ve lied about the extent of your injury.

Anxious about what to say to your doctor? Don’t risk medical treatment being denied. Give us a call at 312-346-5578. All calls are free and confidential, and you can speak with a licensed attorney who can help you.

Truck Drivers And Occupational Accident Disability Policies

When it comes to Illinois workers’ compensation law, one thing we notice is that when you see a weird defense to cases going on, if you see it one case, you’ll see it on a lot of others.  Essentially, insurance companies throw strategies against the wall and hope that it sticks.

There is one defense that isn’t actually new, but it’s being used in a slimy way to hurt truck drivers.  What happens is a trucking company will go to get workers’ compensation insurance. They balk at the price and then get advised to make all of their drivers independent contractors.  They purchase a cheaper work comp insurance policy and are strongly encouraged to make their drivers buy an occupational accident disability policy.

These policies basically tell the truck drivers that if you get hurt at work, you can’t claim work comp, but instead have to apply for these lesser benefits.  Most drivers think they are getting a work comp policy, but really aren’t.  This is wrong and illegal for so many reasons.  Let’s count the ways:

  1. You can’t call a driver an independent contractor when you have control over them. If they are employees then they are employees.
  2. You can’t make an employee pay for their own workers comp coverage.
  3. You can’t make an employee waive their rights to work comp benefits in Illinois.
  4. You can’t force a worker to use a policy that doesn’t pay as much as work comp laws do nor one that limits their medical care.

So the bad news is that many trucking companies are confusing their drivers, many of whom aren’t native English speakers, with these sham policies.  I can think of at least ten drivers who we’ve spoken to in recent months who have been harmed as a result.

The good news is that the law is on the side of these workers.  They can still file for workers’ compensation benefits in Illinois which provide some of the best worker protections around. This includes the right to choose your own doctor, 100% payment for medical bills and compensation for your time off of work.

Regrettably, trucking companies an insurance companies will keep doing this stuff until it bites them in the butt enough.  Fighting these insurance company scams is like a game of whack a mole. You knock one down and then another one pops up in its place.  This one though has gone on for a while because trucking companies open and close and then re-open under a different name all of the time.

The bottom line is that if you are an injured truck driver with a connection to Illinois, we can likely help. Call us for free any time at 312-346-5578 to see if you have a case.

 

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