New Marijuana Laws And Illinois Workers Comp Claims

Back in 2015 the idea of the Cubs winning the World Series was a pipe dream.  It was unimaginable that a global health pandemic could exist.  And nobody thought that marijuana would be legal in Illinois.  Yet here we are.

Now that we are six months in to the new marijuana laws in IL, it’s a good time to reflect on how they are impacting Illinois workers’ compensation cases.  There were a lot of predictions about what would happen, but the reality is that not much has changed.

You can eat a gummy or smoke a joint and not get arrested.  But if you get hurt while working, you still can be compelled to take a drug test and if you refuse you may lose your right to get benefits.

And while you can get high in your spare time, if you are high while working and it contributes to you getting injured, you won’t have a case. It’s no different than the fact that alcohol has been legal forever, but if you are drunk at work and get hurt, you’ll lose your case.

The difference with marijuana vs. alcohol is how long it stays in your system, causing a test to be positive. If that happens, under Illinois law the insurance company can deny your claim and the burden shifts to you to prove that you were not impaired when you got hurt.

The problem that has developed is that so many people are taking edibles or otherwise using marijuana in a way that leads to positive test results that insurance companies are able to, temporarily at least, not pay benefits.  It’s not a huge issue in most cases, but it discourages some people from going forward.  The people who are getting hurt by this are those with minor injuries.  Let’s say you fall at work and hit your head.  You got to the ER, get checked for a concussion and have no further medical care.

A case like that doesn’t have much settlement value.  The goal is to get the bill paid so you don’t have any personal expense.  But if you test positive, the insurance company won’t pay the ER bill.  Getting a lawyer to solve your problem will be really hard because there is no money to be made since the injury is so minor.  That is how people are getting screwed by this law.

The bottom line though is that while we are seeing more positive tests, the way the law is being implemented hasn’t really changed at all.  If anything, workers are more comfortable saying that they smoked marijuana since the illegal stigma is now gone.  And insurance adjusters are more likely to accept that someone used recreationally.

Our advice is don’t get frustrated by a denied case for a positive drug test. And as always, if you want to talk to an attorney for free about a case, call us any time.


What Is Your Work Comp Case Worth Before Surgery

I feel that usually when someone calls with a question and gets an honest answer from us, they leave satisfied.  They might not like what we have to say, but usually appreciate that we told them the truth and explained what our legal opinion is and did it all for free.  We do that for everyone who contacts us.

You can’t please everyone though.  I certainly did not please a recent guy that contacted me and really wanted to know what his case was worth.  He had hurt his knee and back on the job and was in physical therapy.  He was scheduled for surgery and frustrated because he was not making the same amount of money he used to because he couldn’t work overtime or get performance bonuses.  Those are reasonable frustrations.

The only thing he wanted to know was what is his case worth.  I explained that it was an impossible question to answer since he didn’t have the surgery yet.  We don’t know what his ultimate outcome will be.  He currently has severe physical restrictions and his surgeon has told him that there’s no guarantee his condition will get any better.  He’s a high wage earner and if he can never go back to work or find a job making close to what he used to, his case would be worth a lot more than if he made a full recovery.

A lying attorney would make up some number to make him feel good and hopefully sign him up as a client.  If you promise that a case is going to worth 100k and then you can only get 40k for a settlement, you have to explain that.  Some attorneys are fine making up a new lie to cover their old lie.  We don’t do that.

You might be able to get a range of what your case might be worth before you have your operation or know what your recovery might be. If that makes you feel good I guess that’s fine, but it’s not realistic or helpful to you in the long run.  We are happy to give you a range, but will also always give you the honest truth when it’s too soon to say.  Making predictions without facts is not a good idea.

The other issue we told this worker about is that if he doesn’t make a good recovery, he might be entitled to future medical care as well.  Sometimes that money is worth more than the injury is worth.  If you are going to need future surgeries, it’s possible the insurance company will have to fund six figures to you in advance just for that.

Bonus tip.  I get that people are having money troubles right now more than ever.  There is a temptation to try and settle before you are done with your medical care.  Some people are refusing surgery just to settle now.  It can literally be the difference between hundreds of thousands of dollars in your pocket in the end not to mention a huge risk to your health.

When You Are Hurt At Work And Then Get Hurt Outside Of Work

When you are injured on the job in Illinois and need ongoing medical care, you aren’t expected to wrap yourself in bubble wrap and live the life of a hermit until you all better.  You live your life within your medical restrictions.  If you have a knee injury you don’t play flag football.  But you can of course walk at the store. If your back is injured you shouldn’t be doing any heavy lifting.  But if your child needs to be physically picked up so you can comfort them, you do it.

Along the same lines, there was a recent case involving an industrial equipment repair technician that shows that if you are hurt at work and then get hurt outside of work, it doesn’t mean the end of your work comp case.

In this claim, the worker hurt his back while lifting a 90 pound box and herniated a disc in his back at L4-5.  He had surgery and after a period of physical therapy was able to return to his job on a full duty basis without restrictions. His work comp case was still pending when he went to a family member’s house.  While there, he bent down to pick something up and felt his back lock up.  His old symptoms returned and were even more severe than before.  A new MRI showed a renewed disc herniation at L4-5.

Predictably, the insurance company pounced and denied any further medical benefits.  The case went to trial and the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission found in favor of the injured worker.

The basic reason why he won is because under Illinois law you have to determine if the second injury would have occurred without the first.  In this case, his back was in such a weakened state that bending over would not have otherwise hurt him if he wasn’t originally injured when lifting the box.

You prove this by taking the deposition of your surgeon.  A treating doctor who knows your condition is the most credible person to state what happened.  In this case, the surgeon said that after the type of back surgery he had, this worker was more susceptible to a re-injury within the two years following the surgery.

It was a big win as in the end he was awarded off work benefits for 97 weeks and more than $80,000 in medical bills. And he still has to settle his case.

Bottom line is if you re-injure yourself and it’s not at work, that doesn’t mean you can’t still claim it as part of a work comp case.  If that’s confusing or you have any questions, feel free to contact us any time at 312-346-5578.  We have a state wide network that covers all of Illinois.

Don’t Worry About This Shady Illinois Employer

We are unique lawyers in that we talk in plain English and don’t tell you what you want to hear, but instead tell you what you need to hear. If you want a free consultation call us any time at 312-346-5578. We cover all of Illinois.

A concerned mother called me for her son.  He has been offered a job at a company in Illinois and was asked to sign a pre-employment contract.  That is itself isn’t unusual, but what was in it was very odd.

This “smart” employer believes he’s found a way around having workers’ compensation insurance. The contract he asked this kid and others to sign basically states that they know their job has risks of injury and that they agree that if they are hurt while working they will not be able to file a workers comp case.

I’m sure business owners would love it if ignoring the law were just that easy. Fortunately for workers, it’s not.

You can’t waive or be forced to give up your rights to claim work comp benefits in Illinois.  It’s against the law.

The good news is that even if this kid signs this contract, it can’t be used against him in any meaningful way if he files a claim at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.  If that was raised as a defense it would fail.  Quite honestly I don’t  know of any defense attorney who would even try it because they know it’s a joke and would be too embarrassed by it.

Where these b.s. contracts are effective for employers is that they harm some workers who are not aware of their rights.  They take their boss at their word when they say, “You can’t file for work comp, you signed a contract.”

Aside from being illegal, these contracts are also immoral and risky for workers.  If you put the claim through your group insurance and they find out that they shouldn’t have paid, they might come after you for reimbursement or withhold future payments.  You also will be stuck with out of pocket and co-pay expenses that you shouldn’t have to pay.  And of course you don’t get paid for your time off or get a settlement when you are better.

So the good news is that these contracts aren’t legal.  The bad news is that they are out there and they are being used to hurt workers.  Hopefully you don’t get caught up in this trap.

Will Your Employer Not Accommodate Your Restrictions

When decisions are made based around money versus what’s best and safest for a worker, it’s more likely that worker will get injured.

I see this principle in play a lot when it comes to injured Illinois workers who have been given job restrictions by their doctor.  Employers and insurance companies don’t want to continue to pay you not to work, so they will try to find you a job when they can.  That can be a good thing and a bad thing.

Many employers care about their workers and if a doctor tells you that you can’t lift more than 20 pounds, they will make sure that happens. Some though only care about themselves. You can come back with a doctor’s note, but they’ll ask you to do just one thing that violates those restrictions and then another.  At times they will ignore the restrictions altogether or make you feel bad for not helping out.  It’s ridiculous and serves their best interests, not yours.

It even happens when your employer is the government. In a recent court case, a Cook County court room clerk had a light duty job restriction after she fell in a hole, hurting her knee and back.  She had a surgery recommendation and had to take a lot of narcotic pain medication.  A doctor for the County said she could do a desk job with minimal walking.

She went back to work and waited around, but no actual job duties appeared.  Her return to work documents did not get processed. She was in pain so she left and her TTD benefits got cut off.

At trial not only was she awarded back TTD benefits, but she was also awarded penalties and fees.  This is because it was an invalid job offer.  Your employer can’t say that they have work for you within your restrictions and then not actually provide that work.

At the trial, the supervisor for the injured worker testified that she wouldn’t be allowed to return to work if she was on narcotics.  This happens a lot where the person worried about the bottom line has one opinion, but the person who supervises the workers has another.  At a big employer like the County it’s not surprising that everyone isn’t communicating with each other and that different people have different goals.  But that doesn’t mean that you should be punished by having to risk further injury or not getting paid.

In the end, justice prevailed for this worker.  If you have any physical restrictions due to a job injury, make sure to carry a copy of that note with you, make sure everyone is aware of it and don’t exceed those restrictions.

And as always, if you have any questions or concerns, you can contact us for free.

Covid Waivers And Illinois Workers’ Compensation Law

If you follow the news, and lord knows I wish I did a little less than I do, you’ve heard the term Covid waiver.  The President had a rally in Tulsa and required people to waive their right to sue if they got Covid 19 from attending. Ohio State is making their athletes sign a similar waiver as are several other schools.  Some businesses are posting that notice before you enter their property.  And while not in Illinois that I’ve seen yet, some employers are trying to get their employees to waive their rights to make a claim if they catch Coronavirus on the job.

I’m not going to get in to how legit waivers are against the general public. What I do want to discuss is the question, “Can your Illinois employer force you to waive your rights to make a workers’ compensation claim if you catch Covid while working there?”

The short answer is hell no!

The explanation is that under Illinois law, you can’t waive your rights to work comp benefits.  In fact, even if you were forced to sign a waiver or agreed to, if you catch Covid, you could still file an Illinois workers’ compensation claim.  You still have to prove that your job contributed to you getting sick, but whatever form you signed would not harm your case in any way.

This is true not just for this disease, but for any Illinois work injury or accident.  We’ve seen a lot of “smart” employers think that they have found a way out of having to get work comp insurance or worry about their employees getting hurt.  The simple truth is that these forms are against the law and not enforceable.

Beyond all of this, if you do catch Covid at work, they have to pay for all of your medical bills.  We were lead to believe that the Government would take care of all Coronavirus related health care, but that simply isn’t true.  There have been numerous reports of patients getting bills in the six and in some cases seven figures.  Under Illinois work comp law, 100% of your medical care will be covered and you won’t have any co-pays or out of pocket expenses.  You will also get compensated for your time off work and be eligible for a settlement when you are all better.


The Biggest Factor To Win Your Work Comp Trial

Most Illinois workers’ compensation cases don’t go to trial.  They usually settle well before that is a possibility and in some cases they settle right before the case is going to go to hearing.

While this is usual for 90%+ of cases, some do go to arbitration.  That happens because there is a real disagreement as to whether or not a case is compensable or because the insurance company is not making a good offer.  If your case is worth $100,000.00 but they only offer you $60,000.00, trial is probably the better option.  If the insurance company won’t pay your unpaid medical bills, you might want to go to a hearing if your case facts are strong.

Of course if you do go to trial, you want to have a belief you will win.  No Illinois work comp attorney I know would go to trial when they think the facts are bad.  If your testimony is going to be that you were drunk when you fell down and hit your head, no lawyer I know would even sign that case up, never mind take it to a hearing.

The cases we do take to trial are when we believe in the injured workers.  That doesn’t mean you will win, but it does mean your attorney has faith in you.

There are a lot of factors that go in to winning a case, but when you get before an Arbitrator, the number one factor for you winning is credibility.  You have to be believable.  The doctor that testifies on your behalf has to be persuasive.  If not, you will likely lose.

Credible means convincing.  That doesn’t mean you try to say what you think a Judge wants to hear or embellish. It’s important that you always tell the truth. The Judges are not dumb and almost all of them have presided over hundreds of hearings.  They can usually determine who is being truthful and who is trying to b.s. them.

Credibility is also shown by the amount and type of information you give.  If you are trying to claim a repetitive trauma injury at work is why you hurt your elbow, you could say, “I do the same thing every day.”  That, however, does not paint a picture.  It’s better to give a detailed description of how long you’ve been doing the job, what your activities involve, the amount of force you use, what you notice while doing those activities, etc.

A lot of your credibility comes down to how you come off, but a lot of it has to do with how well your attorney prepares you for trial and the types of questions they ask and detail they get out. There is no way to know for sure if they will do a good job until the hearing happens.  That said, one predictor is how well they seem to know the facts of your case when you talk to them on the phone.  If you are having to repeat details or six months in they are saying something like, “remind me how you were hurt again” then you probably don’t have the best attorney possible.  Good work comp lawyers will document their communication with you electronically.  They won’t have to try and remember two years later when the case goes to trial what you actually said to them.

Another red flag is the lawyer who has too many cases.  If you can never get them on the phone or get them to reply to an email, they might be over-extended.  If all of your talk is with a paralegal or secretary, it makes me wonder how the lawyer will really know your case when it goes to hearing.

Bottom line is that nothing can guarantee a win, but there is a lot that can be done to increase the chances of winning.

As always, if you have any questions you can call our lawyers for free at 312-346-5578.

Top Reasons Workers Get Hurt In Illinois

Over the 23 years I’ve been a workers comp attorney in Chicago, I’ve heard some crazy stories of people getting injured on the job.  One person fell on a wet bathroom floor thanks to a co-worker who had clogged the toilet and kept flushing it to make their mistake go away.  Another was making a delivery to a shop when a cat jumped off the counter and caused him to lose his balance and fall. One attorney friend of mine told me about a case where a company did a mock robbery to prepare in case a real one ever happened.  During the fake one, the “robber” slammed the head of a worker on a table and caused a concussion.

Those types of cases make for the best stories, but they certainly aren’t the most common.  Today I’m going to write about the accidents that we see the most because it’s important to know you aren’t alone if something like this happens to you.  In no particular order:

Lifting – Whether it’s improper technique, carrying too much for too long, a co-worker who doesn’t do a good job or a patient that puts too much weight on you, lifting injuries at work are surely the number one accident we see.  They can cause just about any injury imaginable, but back injuries are certainly the main one.

Slip and falls- Whether it’s wet stairs, greasy floors or some obstacle that is in your way, workers in Illinois fall all the time. It happens a lot in the winter in parking lots and all of the time inside, especially in hospitals and grocery stores where there are often liquids on the ground.

Reaction accidents- These go hand in hand with slip and falls. I’ve probably talked to more than 500 injured workers over the years who hurt their shoulders or other body parts when they went to catch themselves while falling.

Burns- We of course see a lot of cooks get burned, but from chemists to factory workers to nurses, many workers are exposed to hot materials that can damage your skin.

Car accidents- If you are driving for your job and get in to an accident, it’s a work comp case if you are injured.  This happens all of the time.

Repetitive trauma claims- The number one issue is probably carpal tunnel from typing.  I expect we will see a lot more of this with people working from home.  There are also a lot of repetitive injury cases for people who do the same job every day or work with heavy materials and have their body break down over time.

Robberies- I’m kind of stunned by the number of people who have had a gun pointed at their head while working.  If it leads to a psychological trauma, you likely have a case.

Assaults- This number will go down with all of the people working from home, but if a co-worker punches you over something related to the job, it’s a work comp case in Illinois.

Those are eight common reasons, but just about anything can be a work comp accident.  If you have any questions, please get in touch with us any time.

What Are COVID Work Comp Cases Worth In Illinois?

I talk all of the time about how Illinois workers compensation laws change constantly.  Nothing can demonstrate that better than the fact that Coronavirus cases didn’t even exist until a few months ago.  Now they are the most common call we get.

With our partners throughout the State, we have been filing cases for COVID injuries for workers who have been diagnosed with it and can credibly relate it to their job duties.  Most of these cases have been for nurses, grocery store workers, nursing home workers and meat processing employees.  But we’ve also been helping people who work in businesses where many co-workers had it and were allowed to continue working without quarantine.

This naturally leads to the question, “What is my case worth?”  The answer of course depends on how bad of an infection you have. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been one trial settlement yet related to this so we don’t have data of other cases to compare it to.  And it makes sense that there hasn’t been a settlement yet because it’s simply too soon for one of these cases to get resolved unless you had a very minor infection and were just trying to get your bills paid.

What’s unique about Covid 19 is that it affects people in different ways and can have long term complications that don’t show up right away or aren’t obvious.  For example, there are reports of people having severe lung function problems that could last 15-20 years even though they are otherwise discharged from care.  In some cases Covid has lead to a stroke when someone otherwise seems fine.

So to answer the question, I can’t tell you what your case might be worth until we have a firm grasp on what’s really wrong with you.  Even then, right now my focus for an injured worker would be to make sure your bills get paid, you get the treatment you need and you are compensated for your time off of work.  That is what’s important now.  Settlement value will be important at some point, but you wouldn’t want to settle a case for $5,000 today that might be worth $50,000 in six months when more information is available.

This blog post may seem like a non-answer, but it’s an honest answer.  Shady lawyers make stuff up so they can give you an answer that you want to hear.  We tell the truth and the truth right now is that while Coronavirus is like most cases in that we need to see your medical records to give you a proper valuation, even with that review we’d likely recommend you wait until we learn more about this pandemic to determine what your claim might be worth.

THE BIG EXCEPTION to this is for people who die from the virus or become obviously permanently disabled from it.  In those cases, although you can anticipate the insurance company will fight you, we can give a much more realistic settlement value range because those cases are valued like any other catastrophic injury claim.

How Hertz Bankruptcy Affects Your Work Comp Case

There is more going on in the news right now than any time I can remember in my life.  Because of this, some news can slip through the cracks or not get discussed enough.  One such issue is that Hertz filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 22nd.

This is a work comp blog so the question is if you are a Hertz employee who has been injured on the job, how will this affect your case?

The short and sweet answer is likely not at all.  Although the bankruptcy filing isn’t even three weeks old, the Court has already granted permission for workers’ compensation claims against Hertz to proceed as normal.

That is because bankruptcy doesn’t usually make these cases go away. Either Hertz is self insured and has put up a bond to cover these costs or they have insurance like any other business does.

The bottom line for you is that if you were injured while working for them, your claim should keep proceeding. Beware any attorney or insurance adjuster who tries to tell you that they can’t help you or there is a delay because of the bankruptcy filing. It is most likely a lie.

This isn’t unique to Hertz.  This is how it works in almost any case.  The only time you really have to worry is if the insurance company for your company goes out of business.  That doesn’t happen a ton, but occasionally does with some smaller outfits.  If it does, your case isn’t over, but will be substantially delayed.

Not only are Hertz employees able to proceed as normal, so is anyone who was injured by a Hertz driver.  So if you were picking up a car from Hertz while on a business trip and one of their workers ran in to you, your lawsuit against them can also proceed.  This too is very good news.

And don’t feel bad for Hertz.  Somehow their stock is up over 500% since they filed Chapter 11 which makes no sense of course.

As always, if you want to speak with a lawyer for free about this or any other issue, please contact us at any time.