The Dumbest IL Work Comp Lawyer Advice I’ve Ever Heard

One thing I vowed to do when I opened up my own firm in 2001, is to give clients and potential clients the type of customer service I like to get.  That means a few things:

1. Talk in plain English.

2. Don’t act like a phony.

3. Be very direct and honest.

4. Don’t be a jerk.

5. Return calls and emails promptly.

I come across a lot of lawyers who violate many of these rules.  Some act like they are better than their clients because they are attorneys.  Some try to talk like they think an attorney should talk, rather than in a way non-lawyers can understand.  Many yell at their clients and a ton, and don’t return calls and e-mails.

Arguably the worst violation though, is from attorneys who aren’t direct and honest.  For whatever reason, some attorneys are afraid to give clients bad news or tell them what they don’t want to hear, but need to hear.  Don’t you hate those types of people in your life? You certainly don’t want them as your attorney.  A lawyer should have the guts and confidence to say what the truth is and explain why it’s the truth.  If they can’t do that, they’ll probably get pushed around in court.

A recent caller to my office had one of these types of lawyers.  She had a unique injury that was hard to evaluate as far as settlement value.  Her lawyer told her to take the first offer the insurance company made, but couldn’t explain why, and when she asked to go to trial, he said he didn’t want to, as he didn’t think it was a good idea.

When she asked why it wasn’t a good idea, he told her she should call the insurance company to hear their side or the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission to ask someone there for a second opinion.  It’s quite possibly the dumbest thing I’ve heard a lawyer say to a client.

First off, when you hire a lawyer, the insurance company isn’t allowed to talk to you.  If I had my client call them they’d either think I was a weak attorney and take advantage of me, or more likely think that my client was nuts and take advantage of the.  If my client called the IWCC, nobody there would be able to give advice about the case or talk to her because they are supposed to be impartial and can’t talk to one party without the other side present.  If she got a hold of the Arbitrator, that man or woman would think the client was nuts.

It’s quite possible that the settlement offer is fair, but as you can imagine, insurance companies don’t usually make their best offer the first time around.  Why this lawyer didn’t say it was a unique case to evaluate or give examples of settlements from similar cases or agree to counter offer is beyond me. Even if he didn’t think the case should go to trial, he could take the client to court and do a pre-trial where each side gets to tell the Arbitrator what the evidence will show and then the Arbitrator can say how they will likely rule.  That would give, hopefully, the client some confidence that the attorney was getting the best deal possible.

For whatever reason, this Chicago work comp attorney (won’t name names, but he’s an old timer), has checked out and just doesn’t seem to care or fight for his clients, and won’t give honest responses to questions.

Hurt At Work, How Far Away Can They Send Me For Treatment?

A caller to my office had a really good question about a very frustrating scenario he was in.

He is an industrial painter and does a lot of overhead lifting and work in general.  One day, he felt a sharp pain in his shoulder while bringing down some items from a scaffold.  This was witnessed, and nobody disputes that he was hurt at work.  All of his time off has been paid, as have his medical bills, so far.

His orthopedic doctor has ordered a MRI to confirm his suspicion that he has a torn rotator cuff.  The insurance company agrees that he needs a MRI.  Even though there is a facility in his doctor’s office, as well as three others within ten minutes of where he lives, the workers’ comp insurance company is saying they will only pay for the MRI if he goes to their chosen provider, who happens to be more than an hour away.

Why would they do this?

This is a great example of how the insurance company doesn’t care about your health, they care about the money they have to spend by law to get you better.  What is happening here, is that the insurance company has cut a deal with a MRI provider for reduced rates for this exam.  If they save $300 here, and on 100 other MRI’s throughout the year, that’s a $30k savings for them on the year.  What do they care that this worker has to drive over an hour or that doing so may put him at risk of an accident or that the facility they are sending him to uses sub-standard equipment?  They know he has a torn muscle and just want to save money.

The good news on this is that nothing under the  Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act requires him to travel this ridiculous distance for a procedure that can be done in a much simpler manner.  This isn’t like an IME exam where they can pay you to travel to see a doctor for a one time visit.  This is you choosing your own treating doctor and following what that doctor recommends.

This is understandably frustrating, but it’s because the worker looks at this case and thinks of their health while the insurance company looks at this and every other case and thinks about it as a business deal.

IL Work Comp – Getting West Nile Virus From Your Job

Illinois work comp law is pretty worker friendly, but not every injury that happens while you are working is a case.  For example, if you are walking down the hallway and your leg buckles for no reason or if you faint, it’s typically not a claim because nothing about the job increased your risk of having an accident.

In the same way, if you get stung by a bee at work, unless you are a bee keeper or in some other job that requires you to be around a lot of bees. But if you are sitting at your desk or working in a factory and a bee flies in and stings you, you will probably not have a case.

With a bee sting or a snake bite, you can pin point where and when it happened. With something like a mosquito bite, which could happen anywhere, you would have a hard time proving for certain that it happened while working.

You might be thinking that a mosquito bite isn’t a big deal and you are usually going to be right.  But a recent caller to my office had a spouse who is a landscaper and has been in the hospital with West Nile Virus.  There is no way to 100% say for certain he was bit at work, but because his job requires him to work in an area with lots of mosquitoes, a really good argument can be made that he most likely did get the disease because of his job. And since his job puts him at a highly increased risk of getting bitten, it’s most likely a case.

Of course you can expect that the insurance company will fight him because whenever they have a possible defense that is their strategy. But it seems like a very winnable case and given how big the injuries are, it’s worth taking a shot at it. You don’t have to prove 100% for certain that you were bit at work.  Testifying (truthfully) that you are around mosquitoes all the time at work and don’t recall being bitten outside of work should be enough to make the case a winner unless there is some other evidence against you.

Big picture, this isn’t a common issue, but there are tons of unique injuries every year that don’t fall in to the common, every day type of case.  That doesn’t mean it’s not a case though and you should certainly talk to an attorney to see if you have any options.

Questions To Ask A Workers’ Compensation Lawyer

We are Chicago based workers’ compensation attorneys who help with job injury cases all over.  If you have any questions, fill out our contact form, call us or click on the chat button.  We will always talk to you for free and do whatever we can to help you.

We talk to people in plain English and are very approachable.  Hopefully this makes people comfortable and they can ask me whatever questions they want to.  I realize that people don’t love lawyers and for some I’m the first one they’ve ever spoken to. Nobody wants to need an attorney, but if you do we want to make the process easy on you.

One very nervous caller to my office and the first thing she said was that she doesn’t even know what to ask.  I (hopefully) calmed her down and let her know that it was my job to ask her questions, but as the call ended I realized that there are questions that she should be asking me or any other lawyer that go beyond how she got hurt or what’s going on with her case.  So in no particular order, these are questions I think you should ask a work comp lawyer before hiring them.

  1. How long have you been an attorney? While any licensed lawyer could handle your case, no matter who you hire they get the same 20% fee as set by the State.  So I think it’s nuts to hire a lawyer that is too young because they won’t have enough experience to get you the best result or too old because we see many lawyers in their late 60’s or older who are really just semi practicing.  One recent caller to my office needs a spinal fusion surgery from a work accident and realized the attorney he hired has been an attorney for only two years.
  2. Who will handle my case? There are a lot of firms whose goal when it comes to Illinois work comp cases is to get as many cases filed as possible. You interview with the head partner, but then discover that a younger associate is going to really be handling the case. It kind of goes with the first point; you want to have an experienced lawyer fighting for you and don’t want to be the person some young lawyer gains experience on.
  3. What percentage of your practice is focuses on work injury cases? You wouldn’t want a doctor who mostly delivers babies to treat your cancer and you don’t want a lawyer who does criminal defense or divorce to handle your work injury.  For me, most attorneys I recommend are 100% work comp and if they are not it’s because they also take on personal injury cases that are a part of the work injury case.  Beware the attorneys that take any case that comes through the door.
  4. What experience do you have with my injury and medical care? Lawyers aren’t doctors, but the best attorney for you will understand the medicine involved with your care.  This can be really important if the injury is very serious (like a neck fusion, torn labrum, etc.) or unique (like RSD, a brain injury).
  5. How many cases do you take to trial a year? There’s no right answer, but the fewer, the scarier as you want a lawyer who will fight for you and go to trial if needed.  Everyone says they are a fighter, but you should look for proof.
  6. Are there any clients of yours that I can call to see what they say about you? Hopefully this is self explanatory.
  7. What will happen on my case in the next 90 days? If they just say they will file the paperwork and it will go from there, it might reflect that they are poor at communicating. They should likely mention gathering your medical records, calling the adjuster, filing a trial motion if needed, an initial status hearing and other things.
  8. What can you tell me about the insurance company? It’s another good question to see what their experience is.  Unless you employer has a very small insurance company, your attorney should have had many cases with the one handling your claim.
  9. Is there something I can do to help my case? To me the answer to this is keep a journal of what has happened, listen to your doctor, don’t embellish your injury, tell the truth, call or e-mail with any questions, keep me in the loop if something happens, don’t discuss the case on social media or with friends and don’t talk to the insurance company.  Those are really basic pieces of advice and they should probably offer even more based on the facts of your case.

There’s one question that gets asked more than any other which is “what is my case worth?” I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ask it, but the truth is, especially if you were recently hurt, there’s no way to accurately say what the ultimate settlement could be.  Beware the attorneys who promise you a huge amount of money when they have very little information because we don’t know what your ultimate medical recovery will be.  To me the ones who will say what you want to hear are the ones that will turn on you and not fight for you.

Illinois Work Comp When You Work For Yourself

Employers in Illinois are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance if they have one or more employees.  It’s a felony not to do so.  The only exception to this is if you work for yourself or are the owner of a company. In those cases you can opt out and don’t have to cover yourself.

Of course if you are working, even if you are the owner, and get injured, not having insurance could really ruin your life.  A recent caller to my office had this happen to him as he tore his ACL and can’t work for about six months.  He used to be covered under his own policy, but no longer is.  There is unfortunately nothing we can do for him now.

If you do elect to have yourself covered under the policy and get injured, it’s often a unique type of case.  First, your average weekly wage is based off your salary, but some owners choose to only take profit distributions.  This can make proving what you really earn a mess.  Second, the case is essentially you versus you although it’s really you versus your insurance company.  That of course makes the case harder for them to defend and fight and if they want to keep your business, they might not fight as hard.  On the flip side though, if they think they are losing money by insuring you they might actually fight it harder and/or drop you as a client.

Whether or not to cover yourself is usually a bottom line or risk/reward decision.  That said, if you are in a heavy duty job or one that has a risk of injuries, it’s really a bad idea not to carry work comp insurance on yourself, especially if your family can’t afford to be without your income for some time.  The other issue is that if it is a work related accident, your personal insurance might choose to not cover the bills and they will care less if you are covered by your own insurance or not.

There are some other quirks when you work for yourself.  Illinois workers are supposed to report their accident to the company within 45 days of it happening.  You are reporting to yourself, but if you have a HR department, GM or someone else that has authority, it would be safe to report it to them ASAP.  If you have restrictions that prevent you returning to a full duty job, an argument could be made that you should be able to create work for yourself that falls within those restrictions. Bottom line is that you can expect a fight over TTD if you are off work.

These are unique cases, but we’ve been involved in them before with success.  If you have any questions or want to talk to a lawyer, contact us for free any time.

Do You Need A Witness To Win Your Workers’ Compensation Case?

One of the great things about Illinois workers’ compensation law is that it’s a no fault law.  That means you don’t need to prove that your employer was negligent to win your case.  So if your back went out on you because you used bad form when lifting or if you new the floor was just waxed, but walked on it anyway, you can still get work comp benefits even though you are partially at fault.

As a result, in most cases you don’t need a witness to win a case as your testimony is usually all you need.  But does that mean you never need one?

The answer is that if a witness will help your case, they should probably be at the trial.  This is especially true if your employer is disputing your version of how you got hurt.

So if a co-worker can confirm that a floor was wet or that you lift a certain amount of weight or that you told them that you felt pain while doing a work activity, it can help.

Even video testimony can help.  In most work comp trials the only video that is shown is either surveillance of you doing activities you said you can’t do or a video demonstration about what your job duties are.  In a recent successful case though involving a CTA bus driver, the worker won his case because the dash cam showed the impact he suffered after going through a crash.

The video evidence was used to push back against the company doctor who said he was fine.

Bottom line is that you don’t have to have a witness or evidence and in many cases there isn’t one.  But you should at least consider having one and if your attorney isn’t asking if there is one early on in the case then they aren’t doing their job.

We tell people to keep a journal of what happened throughout the case and in the beginning it should certainly include who you told, where you were when you told them, what you said, etc.  It’s not a death knell to your case if you don’t, but it certainly could be the difference between winning and losing in the end.

When A Medical Bill Isn’t Paid – Illinois Workers’ Compensation

Under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, the insurance company for your employer has to pay for all “reasonable and related” medical care as a result of your injury.  So if you lift a box at work and feel a pop in your back, it’s reasonable for you to go to the doctor, get physical therapy, have a MRI, etc.  It wouldn’t be reasonable to go and get some experimental treatment that is not recognized by the majority of the medical community.

For most injured workers the issue is either getting traditional treatment approved or once you’ve had the treatment, getting the bills paid.

Insurance companies in Illinois work comp cases will sometimes act like they can take forever to make a decision or just blow off your claim all together.  The reality is that once a medical provider sends a bill to the insurance company, they have 30 days by law to make payment.  The only way they can get out of it is if the bill is too vague or they have a good faith reason for denying your claim or the bill.

It’s often a legal strategy for insurance companies to delay, delay, delay in hopes that you’ll use your personal insurance or just go away.  Sadly it often works.

The way to counter it is to be aggressive. When they won’t respond to you or don’t pay a bill without reason you should file a 19(b) petition for immediate hearing before an Arbitrator which is an emergency hearing and puts pressure on the insurance company to do the right thing.

Of late we have seen a lot of insurance companies accept a case, pay you for your time off of work, but not pay any of the medical bills because that is the big cost.  They are just playing a game and hoping to get a discount or get someone else to pay it. In some cases they rush to settle without you knowing the bills aren’t paid and you don’t discover it until you get a collection letter six months later.

The best advice I can give you is to stay on top of the bills.  Every time you go to the doctor ask for an itemized copy of any outstanding charges.  When you are discharged from care, follow up 45 days later to check on the bill.  And never ever settle your case until every medical provider has been called and you’ve verified that no bills are unpaid.

And as always, if you have any questions get in touch with us for a free consultation.

IL Work Comp – Is Your Lawyer Doing All That They Can?

I pride myself in being an attorney who is direct, honest and speaks in plain English.  If someone asks me a question and I know the answer, I don’t tiptoe around it if it’s something they don’t want to hear.  I’m also willing to tell you that your lawyer sucks if they suck, and of course, I’ll tell you if they are doing a good job when it appears to be the case.

A lot of callers and readers will ask me if their attorney is doing all that they can for them.  I’ve written a lot about some of the warning signs such as not filing trial motions, not returning phone calls, a failure to explain the law, etc.  Recently though I had calls from two very frustrated injured workers who were not happy with their attorney, but unfortunately could not be helped.

The first one hurt his back, had a fusion, but has been without benefits for about 18 months.  He’s worried about losing his home and feels that as of late he’s not getting any answers from his attorney or any effort to speed the process up.  At first the story sounded like a huge red flag, but then I looked the case up and realized the case went to trial.  At the trial the injured worker won the case, but the insurance company appealed.

If your attorney takes your case to trial and they win, they’ve literally done what they can for you.  They might not have been a superstar before that, but if in the end they won the case that’s as good as you can hope for. They have no control over the insurance company appealing and unfortunately that can take some time.  In this case it took over a year and while the good news is that the appeal result just came back in his favor, the bad news is that the insurance company can appeal further if they want.

So his attorney could try to negotiate a settlement right now, but it might not be the best strategy as it signals that the client can’t wait any longer.  The insurance company might just appeal to try and buy time to get a better deal.  It certainly sounds like the lawyer could communicate better, but my guess is that they answered the question once or twice and then (not saying this is right) got tired of giving the same answer.

In the second case, the woman came to me for advice about a year ago.  I suggested something that would turn the case around and offered to take over the case.  She ended up sticking with her attorney which is her right, but then called me recently expressing regret.  I looked this case up and discovered that it was settled.  Did the attorney do all that he could?  No, he was terrible and is one of the worst lawyers around. But once you settle the case you can’t get someone to go back and re-open it or fix any mistakes.  By agreeing to settle the injured worker accepted that what the attorney did was all they could do.

Bottom line is that I will be happy to talk to you about any case.  We usually recommend you try and work things out with your current firm, but we also call it like we see it and if your attorney isn’t fighting for you or there is something that can be done, we will tell you.

What Are The Odds Of Winning Your Work Comp Case?

I love questions from anyone. I do believe there are no dumb questions, and when you ask me something I think should be obvious, that just tells me we need to do a better job of explaining things.

A really good question I got recently was from someone who wanted to know what the odds were of winning their case. I’m not in the odds making business, and I hate lawyers that make false promises just to make a client feel good or to get them to sign up.

What I do like to do is help you figure out the chances of success.  That depends on the facts of your unique case, which we are always happy to discuss with you. In general though, I believe in predictors of success.  There are certain things that don’t guarantee a victory, but are good signs that your case will go well.  These things include:

1. Report the injury to your employer ASAP.  It can be as simple as telling your boss/supervisor, “I was lifting a box and felt a pop in my back” but the best thing to do is fill out something in writing or tell them by e-mail.

2. Get to the doctor right away.  The longer you wait to get to the doctor the harder it becomes to relate your problems to the original injury.  A delay of a few days can be reasonable. A delay of many months is not.

3. When you see the doctor make sure to tell them that you were hurt at work (if that’s the truth). Don’t listen to a boss that tells you to say you were hurt away from work and promises they’ll take care of you.  Again do it in writing when you can.

4. Listen to your doctor. If they tell you to go to physical therapy do it.  If you need to stop smoking to aid your recovery, do it.

5. Don’t lie or embellish.  If you lie you will likely get caught. If you inflate your symptoms you likely will get caught.  And it will kill your case.

6. Hire an attorney that does work comp all day every day.  If they just dabble in it, it could cost you.

7. Communicate with your attorney.  If you don’t tell them your check is late or you need a medical procedure approved, etc., they can’t help you.

8. If you realize that you hired the wrong attorney, switch before it’s too late.

9. At trial be calm. It’s not the trial of the century, it’s just a hearing on work comp benefits.  There is no jury.  There will probably be two lawyers, a court reporter and Arbitrator and you in the room.  That’s it.

10. Keep a journal from beginning to end. In some cases you might not need a trial for years, but will still need to remember old details.  A journal can help and aid your credibility.

This isn’t a complete list. I could probably do another post that just focuses on lawyers that could really tip the scales in your favor (you better hire someone who takes cases to trial).  But it’s a good starting point.  Don’t freak out if you haven’t hit all of these points.  It doesn’t mean your case is a loser, but it might make things more challenging.  Feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.

Illinois Workers’ Compensation Laws You Need To Know

An injured worker in Chicago called me with a very generic question. She asked what laws do I need to know. I told her it was too vague because what I’d recommend for her would be based on her case facts.  She doesn’t need to worry about TTD benefits for example if she’s not missing any time from work.

When the call ended I thought it would be a good idea to highlight laws and tips related to your IL work comp benefits that I think everyone should know.  So in no particular order, here are some things you need to know if you were hurt on the job in Illinois:

1. Your employer or the insurance company has a right to medical records related to your injury, but not your life long medical history.

2. If they ask for you to give a recorded statement, you should refuse.  It can’t help you and if they say you will only get benefits if you give one they are lying.

3. After you are hurt at work and can’t work, you are entitled to 2/3 of your average weekly wage tax free. You get paid based on calendar days missed, not actual work days missed.  So if you are taken off work starting on Monday the first until Monday the 22nd, you are owed 21 days of benefits even if you were only scheduled to work 15 days during that time.

4. Under Illinois law, not only is the insurance company not allowed to talk to your doctor without your permission and any information they get in doing so can be barred from trial.

5. 100% of your medical bills are to be paid for anything related and reasonable.  No co-pays, no out of pocket expenses.

6. There is no pain and suffering payments under Illinois work comp law.

7. These cases are not lawsuits.  They are claims for benefits.

8. It’s illegal to fire someone for pursuing a work comp case.

9. It’s legal for the insurance company to follow you around, do surveillance, etc.

10. They can send you to a doctor of their choosing for a one time exam, but have to pay your travel expenses to and from the exam.

11. The money you receive from your work injury is tax free.

12. It doesn’t take years to get to trial despite what some lawyers say.

13. Attorney fees can not exceed 20% of the settlement (unless they make you an offer before you hire the lawyer) and in some cases it ends up being less when the settlement is in the six figures.

14. You have by law at least three years from the accident date to file a case, but for many strategic reasons you should it ASAP.

15. You have to tell your employer you were hurt at work within 45 days of it happening, but again should do it ASAP.

16. If you were hurt in Illinois you can file the case here no matter where the company is based out of.

17. Eligibility for work comp benefits begins the second you start working.

18. Your employer can’t force you to waive your rights to work comp benefits even through a severance agreement.

19. Once you settle your case you can not re-open it.

That’s 19 tips which seems like a good number for 2019. But if you have any questions about anything, call us any time at 312-346-5578 or fill out our contact form and we’ll call you.