Workers’ compensation, which pays you certain benefits if you are hurt on the job, is only for employees. The law in Illinois does not extend the right to benefits to volunteers. Even if you have a regular volunteering position or you volunteer a significant number of hours, you aren’t an employee. If you volunteer at a hospital and slip and fall on a wet floor, which is a fairly common injury for hospital workers, you simply don’t have the same options as an employee. There is one big exception which we will discuss below.

Sometimes the person or entity you volunteer for will offer to pay your medical bills if you were hurt while doing work for them. This is a kind gesture, but it doesn’t put them on the hook for anything further. It doesn’t mean they are admitting that they are responsible. And it doesn’t mean that you can file a claim for workers’ compensation if you end up having extensive medical bills.

The same rule applies to independent contractors: Only employees get workers’ compensation in Illinois. Volunteers, independent contractors or other non-employees who get hurt while doing work on someone else’s property have the option of a personal injury lawsuit. You have to prove negligence of some sort in order to hold the property owner or manager responsible for your injury and any financial loss (medical bills, lost earnings, etc.). The dispute is handled through the courts.

A claim for workers’ compensation is different from a lawsuit in that fault doesn’t matter. You don’t have to prove negligence, and if the injury was your fault, that doesn’t matter. You just have to show that your injury was caused by your work. Also, you don’t go to court. It’s a claim for benefits against an insurance company (most employers carry workers’ compensation insurance in Illinois). If you are volunteering and are injured due to negligence, you may have a personal injury lawsuit.

The big exception to all of this is volunteer firefighters. They are in fact covered under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. If they have an outside job, their settlement rate will be based off of that and they can get their bills 100% paid as well as their time off work.

Whether you are a volunteer with a potential injury lawsuit or an employee with a workers’ compensation claim, an experienced Illinois attorney can help you navigate the right type of legal action. The type of attorney we would recommend depends on which type of case you have. If you have a work injury, we suggest hiring someone who exclusively handles work injuries, and the same is true for a negligence lawsuit.
By Michael Helfand