Is It Worth It To Hire A Workers’ Compensation Attorney

A recent caller to my office was very blunt, which I love, because I am very blunt.  Being straight forward is the best way to be as a lawyer.

He had torn his biceps and labrum on the job.  He went to an IME who agreed with his treating doctor that he needed surgery.  The caller works in southern Illinois so he wasn’t asking to hire me which makes sense because getting someone local would be better for him.  What he bluntly asked me was, “Is it even worth it to get an attorney?”

It’s a common concern and the answer isn’t always yes.  Everyone’s case is different and if you have a minor injury or a statutory one (amputation for example), there might not be much an Illinois work comp attorney can do for you unless your benefits get denied.

But for major injuries like this one, even when the case is accepted or the insurance company seems like they are being nice, it’s almost always worth it to get a lawyer. There are a lot of reasons why:

1. It doesn’t cost anything to hire and Illinois workers’ compensation attorney so you aren’t saving money by waiting until something goes wrong.

2. If something does go wrong (e.g. they won’t approve a medical procedure, your TTD checks are late, a bill isn’t paid, etc.) if a case has already been filed it will allow you to get in to court much faster to solve the problem.

3. Insurance companies often do the wrong thing when you aren’t represented just to see if they can get away with it.

4. Sometimes you don’t realize they are doing something against the law because they do it with a smile.  For example, it’s common that the insurance company will assign a nurse to contact your doctor.  Doing so for anything other than to ask for a copy of your records and bills is against the law, but it happens all the time.  The number on violation they do is try to convince your doctor to change your restrictions. These illegal actions can seriously hurt your health.

5. Dealing with an insurance company can be stressful. You should focus on your health and recovery.  Beyond that, you are going to likely be dealing with an adjuster who has years of experience.  It’s not a fair fight if you go at alone.

6. Along the lines of having someone ready to go if something goes wrong, if you have a long term injury and don’t get an attorney for a year, when you do hire them they are not only playing catch up for what is currently going on, but they might be missing important details  from the beginning of the case that you’ve forgotten. For example, if you slipped on a wet floor, we’d want to know what you slipped on, who saw it, who you reported it to at work, what you told them, what you told the adjuster, etc.  It’s not that you can’t find this stuff out (although sometimes you can’t), it’s that having to work backwards puts you at a disadvantage because the insurance company has a file from day one of your accident.

7. At worst, having an attorney is a security blanket in case something does go wrong or you just want to have someone to bounce questions off of.  You’ll never know what the insurance company didn’t do because you have a good lawyer that they would have otherwise done.

8. But the biggest for most people seems to be that having a lawyer, even after their 20% fee, almost always puts more money in your pocket in the end.  Based on my 22+ years of experience, if an insurance company does agree to make a settlement offer to you, the first thing they do is cut it by 20% because you don’t have a lawyer.  They make offers on the low end of what you’d get if you did have representation if they make an offer at all.  I can’t recall one case where someone called me and was given more without an attorney than they would have gotten with one.

9. And when you do settle, it’s incredibly important to make sure you have a lawyer in your corner to deal with the settlement contract.  Not doing this could cause you to have to pay some medical bills related to your case and/or miss out on some future medical treatment payments. The worst example I saw was when a contract was so badly written that it forced the injured worker to have to pay taxes on their settlement even though these settlements are typically tax free.

There are more reasons of course, but getting someone who cares about you and is experienced will almost always make the case go better for you.  We cover all of Illinois through our state wide network. If you want a free consultation you can contact us at any time.

Sciatica And Illinois Workers’ Compensation Claims

If you have back pains while on the job, you are not alone: A 2015 study found that nearly 40 million American workers suffer from chronic back pain. That is more than a quarter of the workforce reporting back pain severe enough to affect their ability to work.  I can tell you as an Illinois work comp attorney with over 22 years of experience, it’s the most common call that I get.

The back is actually a very complicated structure of bones, joints, ligaments and muscles so it shouldn’t be too surprising to hear such an extreme number of reported back pain. One can easily sprain ligaments, strain muscles, rupture disks and irritate joints, all leading to back pain.

Although this is a commonly shared condition, the type of back pain experienced by each person varies widely. The lower back is the most common area affected, which has a lot to do with how our bodies move and work.

Some of the more common low back problems that arise are:

  • Lumbar disc herniation (spinal disc extrudes and places pressure on a nerve root)
  • Lumbar degenerative disc disease (breakdown of discs, which act as cushions between the vertebrae)
  • Isthmic spondylolisthesis (a condition in which one vertebra slips forward over another one)
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back)
  • Lumbar subluxation (a term describing an altered position of the vertebra in the low back causing functional loss)

What you may not know is these common lower back problems are also the most common causes to sciatica. The term sciatica is often times used incorrectly to explain leg pain, low back pain and other sciatica symptoms. Contrary to what many believe, sciatica is actually a set of symptoms rather than a diagnosis for what is causing pain.

The sciatic nerve runs from the feet, through the legs, buttocks and to the back of the pelvis. When this nerve becomes compressed or irritated you get sciatica. Common symptoms include pain, tingling and/or numbness around the lower back, buttocks and down the lower legs and feet. A patient may also experience muscle weakness or spasms, difficulty walking, standing from a seated position, and difficulty bending or raising one leg.

Living with sciatica can be quite difficult. The immense pain the problem brings along can hamper movement and affect daily life. Approximately five percent of people with back pain have sciatica and it is commonly found in Workers Compensation Claims.

Many injuries that cause sciatica occur due to a singular, traumatic accident or they may develop over time, with repeated pressure placed on the spine. Workers at a higher risk are in occupations that require them to lift heavy objects, turn in awkward positions, stand or sit for extended periods or repeatedly bend at the waist.

Whether it’s us or another law firm, if you have sciatica or another back problem, we highly recommend that you get an experienced lawyer in your corner that has a history with these cases and really understands the medicine behind it.  If you’d like to talk to one of our lawyers for free, call us any time at 312-346-5320. We cover all of Illinois.

Staffing Agency Injuries In Illinois

A caller to my office has been working at a well known company for over six months.  She has been doing the same job as every full time employee in the department who has been there for years.  She’s just not an employee of this Chicago area company.  How is that possible?

Well, she was placed there by a staffing agency.  So even though her day to day activities are no different than those of people paid directly by the company, she’s paid and employed by a temp service.  This is true despite the fact that her work hasn’t been temporary.

As you can probably guess, she called me because she was injured while performing her job duties.  She slipped on a wet floor, hurting her knee and wanted to know who she had a case against.

In this situation, it is almost certain that her work comp claim is against the staffing company.  The contracts they and you sign make them the employer and even though it’s likely nobody from the staffing agency is on site at this factory, that doesn’t matter.

The second question is since the floor was wet, can she sue the borrowing employer that the temp agency assigned to her.  You’d think that the answer would be yes, but in Illinois it’s generally no.  An Illinois Appellate Court found that a borrowing employer is “immune from tort liability.”  In plain English that means you can’t sue them for negligence.  You also can’t sue the staffing agency for negligence because they are your employer.

The good news is that an Illinois workers’ compensation claim is not a lawsuit.  So you still get all of your medical bills paid, all your lost time paid and a settlement for the permanent nature of your injuries.

Beyond that, there are some things we think all temp workers should know:

1. You have the same rights as every other worker in Illinois.

2. You are covered under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act the moment you start working.

3. If you are hurt while on the job, you should notify the employer you were staffed at as well as the staffing agency.

4. It does not matter if you do not have health insurance if you were hurt while working.  100% of your medical bills should be covered by the work comp insurance company.  Notify the ER or any doctor you see that it is a work related injury.

As always, we get that some of this can be confusing.  If you have any questions or want our help with a case, call or email us for free any time. We help with cases all over Illinois.

Workers’ Compensation When Your Employer Goes Out Of Business

In the last two weeks I’ve said, “We’ve never seen anything like this before” about 20 times.  Unemployment filings in Illinois are unfortunately at record highs and many companies are unofficially out of business.  We’ve seen it the most with restaurants, but there are plenty of other businesses that have had to close their doors.

This is a work comp blog for Illinois.  So the question I’ve been getting a lot is, “What happens to my workers comp case now that my company has shut its doors?”

The answer for just about everyone is nothing.  Nothing happens, at least not anything bad.  If a restaurant or store goes under, that doesn’t change the fact that they paid for insurance that was in place when you got hurt.  That insurance still has to pay 100% of your medical bills, all of your time off work and for any settlement that you get when you are done treating and as good as you are going to get physically.

If you were working at your job with restrictions such as no lifting over 20 pounds and then suddenly you are out of a job, you should start getting TTD benefits until you are released by your doctor with no restrictions.

The key point to remember here is that your employer shut down, but not their insurance company. If an insurance company files for bankruptcy – and realistically, insurance companies are going to have huge profits from all of this most likely – that would affect your case. But your boss having to shut the doors does not harm your work comp case.

Beyond all of this, if you were a high wage earner and now have permanent restrictions, if you have no job to go back to you are entitled to vocational rehabilitation and potentially a wage different settlement or award of permanent disability. It’s certainly going to be hard to find a job if you don’t have one. The Illinois work comp system doesn’t punish you for this.  In fact it protects you.

The only exception to all of this is if your company is self insured and goes under.  That hasn’t happened yet, but if United Airlines or Amazon or some other multi billion dollar corporation were to go under, your work comp benefits would be delayed.  Most people do not have to worry about this, but in essence it would not just mean that the employer went out of business, but the insurance company did too because they handle their work comp claims in house instead of paying for insurance.  Hopefully we never get to that point.

Bottom line is that we have enough to stress about right now and I don’t want you to stress about your work comp benefits because your job is now gone. If we can help in any way or you just have some questions, please call us for free at any time to speak with a lawyer.

If Your Lawyer Says They Can’t Do Anything, They May Be Lying

With the Coronavirus, most courts are closed.  This includes, for the most part, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.  By that I mean that regular status calls are not happening.  Trials where an Arbitrator determines what a case is worth aren’t happening right now.  Pre-trials aren’t happening either.

I’ve heard from some readers that they need a surgery that has been unreasonably declined by an insurance company and that their lawyer says nothing can be done for them right now.  In some cases that may be true, but in others it might be that your attorney just doesn’t want to do anything.

The IL Work Comp Commission is in fact open for emergencies.  Three days a week in Chicago and twice a week for the rest of the State, emergency motions can be presented to Arbitrators between 9 a.m. and noon.  Emergencies include issues related to the statute of limitations or if a worker will suffer an unacceptable hardship if they do not get a hearing.  Basically you have to make an argument that the risk of someone being exposed to COVID-19 is worth it.

This was just announced and it’s not clear if this means all 19(b) emergency petitions will be heard or if you have to go a step further in order to get a hearing.  But what you can do is try. File the motion and make the insurance company respond to it.  If healthy, your lawyer can show up at the Commission where social distancing measures have been put in place for their safety. They can argue that you are in an emergency situation whether it’s because you’ve been without pay for a long period of time or desperately need a surgery or other medical procedure.

These are very strange times of course and the situation might change.  As of now the Commission is closed through March.  I doubt it will fully open in April, but nobody knows for certain.  Trial motions have to be filed at least 15 days in advance so your attorney should be filing their motions now in case things do somehow go back to normal or a contingency plan is put in to place like hearings by Zoom or some other procedure.  It takes very little effort to file the right paperwork.

But if your attorney won’t try anything, they aren’t fighting for you and may in fact be lying to you.  Is advocating for a client a lot harder now than it was last month?  Absolutely.  Is it impossible?  No and since we can’t predict the future, we need to try.

New Illinois Maximum Permanent Disability, PPD and TTD Rates For 2020

The #1 question we get is “What is my case worth?”  A close second is probably people wanting to know if they are getting paid the right amount for TTD benefits which is compensation for your time off work when you are hurt on the job in Illinois.

The answer to these questions depend on a variety of factors.  One of the biggest influences on what a case is worth is how much you were making at the time of your accident.  A person making $100,000.00 a year will have a case worth more than someone making $25,000.00 if all the other case facts are the same.

Every six months Illinois updates the TTD rates which determine what your compensation will be. The TTD rate is 2/3 of your average weekly wage.  Once a year they update the PPD (permanent partial disability) rates which is the pay rate your settlement is based off of. The PPD rate is 60% of your average weekly wage.  These figures are subject to maximum amounts that are based off of the state wide average weekly wage.  Generally speaking, wages go up which leads to these maximum rates going up.

The current maximum TTD rate for injuries from January 15, 2020 to July 14, 2020 is $1,549.07.  That means that if you make more than $120,827.46 a year (or $2,323.61 a week), if you are injured on the job and can’t work, you will actually get less than 2/3 of your weekly wages as compensation.  For most workers this is a non issue.  This maximum tends to go up $20-25 every six months or so.

The current maximum PPD rate is $836.69. If you were injured between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020, that is the rate that will be used.  Settlements are based on a formula where your PPD rate is multiplied by the value assigned to a percentage of your body part.  A back injury for example is worth 500 weeks for a 100% loss of use.  So if you were a high wage earner and received a settlement for a herniated disc of 20% loss of use of the back, you would be entitled to 100 weeks of PPD compensation or $83,669.00.

If you are permanently disabled from a job accident or a loved one is killed on the job while working in Illinois, that settlement is based off what is called the permanent disability rate or death benefit rate.  That amount is equal to the current maximum TTD rate.

There are minimum loss rates too that vary based on your wage and the number of financial dependents that you have.

It’s very important to know what your proper rate is.  The rates aren’t published right when the calendar turns.  So if you get hurt in July of 2020 before the new rates are listed, you will get paid based on the old maximums. That said, when the new rates are published you can retroactively get the increase you deserve.
Is this confusing?  It can be. You definitely don’t want to make an error when it comes to PPD and TTD rates.  If you have any questions you can talk to us for free any time by filling out our contact form or giving us a call. We help with work injury cases everywhere in Illinois.

Illinois Work Injuries When You Work At Home

Obviously our lives are changing in ways that did not seem imaginable months ago due to Coronavirus. My friend works at the Hancock Tower and his 700 person office is empty.  They are all under instructions to work from home. Of course that isn’t unique and they are lucky to even have their jobs.

I did a post last week about how Coronavirus will affect Illinois workers’ compensation cases. As I said at the end of that post, this is a fluid situation.  I don’t think I appreciated then how many people would be asked to work remotely. That brings up the question, what happens while you are injured while working at home?

The short answer is that you can still get workers’ compensation benefits.  If you are typing a lot and get carpal tunnel, as long as that typing is for work, you should have a case.  If you are walking around your office and trip on a cord and fall and get hurt, it’s likely a case.  If you lift a box of work supplies and hurt your back, it’s a case even though it happened in your spare bedroom.

Getting hurt while working at home or at an office building is mostly the same.  There are some things to think about though:

  1. There are likely no witnesses.  Illinois work injuries don’t have to be witnessed, but it could be a factor.
  2. Since there won’t be a witness to you falling, dropping something, etc. it’s more important than ever that if you do get hurt that you notify HR or a supervisor right away and of course get medical treatment right away.  I recommend that you do it in writing so there is no dispute as to when you reported it.
  3. *** Key point.  When you go to the doctor, you will be asked verbally and in writing how you hurt yourself. If you say you were at home and hurt your back lifting a box, you will likely lose your case. If the truth is that you were hurt at home while doing work for your employer, you have to make it clear.  Otherwise it won’t be a workers’ compensation case.  Whatever it is, just tell the truth.
  4. Some things that you wouldn’t be a work injury might be such as getting hurt while taking a bathroom break.  It’s all fact specific, but you’d be wise to ask an attorney if you get hurt.

We will always talk to people for free about their legal questions.  Now more than ever it’s important to have information.  If you want a free consultation with a lawyer, call us at 312-346-5578, start a live chat or fill out the contact form and we will call or email you.

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission Is Closed, But We Are Open

Hot off the presses and completely expected, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission is going to be closed through March.  Here is the press release:

IWCC TO SUSPEND ARBITRATION OPERATIONS FOR TWO WEEKS BEGINNING TUESDAY MARCH 17, 2020

Posted: 3/15/2020
MEMORANDUM
TO: MEMBERS OF THE BAR
FROM: MICHAEL J. BRENNAN, CHAIRMAN
SUBJECT: IWCC TO SUSPEND ARBITRATION OPERATIONS FOR TWO WEEKS BEGINNING TUESDAY MARCH 17, 2020
DATE: MARCH 14, 2020
In light of the unprecedented severity of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, in the interests of health and safety, at the Monday March 16, 2020, meeting of the Workers’ Compensation Commission, Chairman Michael J. Brennan will be calling for a vote to suspend all normal in-person arbitration and Commission review operations for a two-week period. This period will run from Tuesday March 17, 2020, through Tuesday March 31, 2020.
The Commission will vote pursuant to its authority under Section 16 of the Act and Section 9020.60 of the Administrative Rules to temporarily suspend hearing operations and automatically continue all cases scheduled for in-person appearance (e.g. status, trial, etc.) for a period of 90-days. Chairman Brennan is confident this vote will carry unanimously.
The Chairman’s Office may make space available as needed for emergency hearings or other extremely time-sensitive matters on a case-by-case basis, to be scheduled or conducted at the IWCC’s Chicago, Collinsville, Rockford, Peoria, and Springfield hearing sites. The Chairman has no doubt that all members of the Bar will continue to work together and communicate with one another on any aspects of their clients’ cases that would regularly be conducted by mail, email, or phone during this unprecedented period.
As these events continue to evolve, we will work with the Governor’s Office and Illinois Department of Public Health to address this rapidly changing situation. But until directed to proceed otherwise, all other Commission operations will continue as usual. Parties are advised that any statutory filing deadlines and statutes of limitations will not be affected by these measures, and the Commission will continue to process all usual documents and filings by mail and email.
The Chairman’s Office will reassess the need to extend or expand these measures on an ongoing basis.
What isn’t clear is how we will get settlement contracts approved, but in general this is not a good thing for injured workers in Illinois.  In most cases, if your checks are late there won’t be any recourse until April.  I would think exceptions would be made for a trial involving someone who is terminally ill, but not much else.
Our office will remain open and when not in our main office, our phones are forwarded to a remote office or an answering service that pages us right away.  So like all other times before all of this craziness, if you want to talk to a lawyer for free, you can usually do that right away or within minutes by calling us at 312-346-5578.

What Amount Is My Workers’ Compensation Case Worth?

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A very frustrated Illinois worker called my office recently.  He had been injured on the job a couple of years ago, and the case was close to being done. His frustration was because his lawyer won’t give him any indication as to what amount he will likely get for a settlement.  He was hoping I could give some insight.

First things first, while no attorney should tell you what the case is worth right after you get hurt (they’d be lying if they did), when you are done with your treatment, they absolutely should give you a range of what the case is worth.  It’s literally their job.  Why this attorney wouldn’t do it I have no idea, but it’s a red flag in my opinion.

In this case, the worker had a major leg injury with four surgeries. He also developed back problems because, he says, he was favoring his leg so much. The medical bills for the leg have been paid, but they haven’t for the back.  He’s not going to be able to return to his old job, but wasn’t expecting to work much more anyway.

Based on knowing his wages, I can guess what the case would be worth, but can’t say for certain without seeing his medical records including those of the IME doctor the insurance company hired. Without them I don’t have a clear picture.

That said, based on the talk it does appear that the range of the case could be between $70,000 and $300,000.  That is a very wide range and it’s true because it’s arguable that this worker is permanently disabled which would make the claim worth much more money.

One not obvious factor in what the case is worth is who the lawyer is. The truth is that, especially in big injury cases, some claims are worth more based on having an experienced attorney who cares and fights.  A case like this isn’t going to get anywhere near $300,000 without a lot of work.  Sadly, there are man law firms that would tell the client to take $100,000 so they don’t have to do anything special to make it happen.

So how do you know if you have a fighter?  Approximately 5% of cases go to trial every year.  That’s partly because the laws favor workers and also partly because many Illinois work comp attorneys are lazy.  So before you hire a lawyer, ask them how many work comp trials they’ve done in the last 12 months.  There is no right answer, but if it’s close to zero it’s a bad sign.  Most attorneys I know will do between 12-20 a year.

If a case needs to go to trial, it should go to trial.  If the going to trial is better for you, it should go to trial. These are simple concepts that aren’t always followed.

Bottom line is I encourage you to always be thinking about if you have a fighter in your corner. If you don’t you should consider switching firms.

How Coronavirus Will Affect Illinois Work Comp Cases

I’m know health expert and don’t like people who act like they are when in reality we should all be listening to the real experts when something like Coronavirus happens.  What I do know is that it’s obvious that this is not like anything we’ve seen in recent times and it’s going to impact our daily, normal lives.  We’ve already seen major sporting events cancelled, kids being told to do school online and many people being quarantined.

An impact of our daily lives also includes workers’ compensation cases.  I don’t want to pretend that we know for sure everything that will happen to work comp cases from Coronavirus or COVID 19, but there are some that seem very likely to happen.

The first thing to know is that our economy is getting hammered so people are likely to get laid off and/or businesses close.  If you are working a job with restrictions due to a job injury and the business lets you go, you should receive TTD benefits until you have no restrictions at all.  Losing your job would also likely make your case worth more money in the end.

You might also find yourself in a situation where you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID 19 and get asked to quarantine yourself.  It should not take away your rights to benefits if you can’t go to the doctor for two weeks and get treatment.  Usually failure to get physical therapy when it’s ordered or skipping an IME would make it so your benefits are cut off.   That shouldn’t happen, in my opinion, with Coronavirus.

As of now you can get this illness from anyone who has been exposed.  So if you get it from a fellow factory worker or teacher, then you probably couldn’t get benefits for it. On the other hand, if you are a doctor, nurse or other hospital worker who comes in to contact with many patients who have Coronavirus you are arguably at an increased risk of getting sick.  So to me if you got sick then you should get Illinois work comp benefits.  It’s no different than a healthcare provider who gets an infection from a sick patient.

If you travel for work and can prove that you acquired COVID from your travel, you should also get benefits.  It may not be the type of thing you can 100% prove, but you can certainly show that more likely than not you did if you went to a place where there is a lot of confirmed cases like Seattle, Milan, etc.

But the biggest impact I think this will have is it seems likely we will eventually have building closures to prevent people from being in crowded spaces together.  So it’s possible that you will need your day in court but not get it because the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission is closed.  It’s not likely that we will have court via teleconference as an Arbitrator needs to be able to judge your credibility in person.  I’m really worried that injured workers will get screwed over because they can’t get their day in court.

There are other concerns too and I’m sure some I haven’t thought of yet.  This is of course all new and the impact will change and become more clear over time.  As always, if you have any questions you can call me at 312-346-5578 or fill out our contact form and we will call you.

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