Illinois workers’ compensation law is a “no-fault” law.  That means you don’t have to prove that anyone was negligent in order to get benefits.  You can’t win a case if you were goofing off, but you can even if you were partially at fault for an injury (e.g. you fell asleep at the wheel while driving the company van and got injured).

As a result, in many cases you do not need a witness to prevail for benefits.  That said, it never hurts to have one.  For example, if you did get hurt when you fell asleep at the wheel, if an anonymous tipster tells your employer that you had been drinking, you will have a hard time winning your case.  But if a co-worker was with you the whole time and can testify that you didn’t drink a drop then you should be fine.

When a witness becomes really important is when you get in to a “he-said, she-said” sort of situation.  A while back a worker called us and said that her arm was injured while working at an office in Waukegan when a co-worker forcibly grabbed her.  She does have a real, medically documented injury, but benefits were denied.  The reason the insurance company is fighting her is the alleged assaulter denies ever even touching her, much less squeezing her arm.

So in order to win she has to go trial and the Arbitrator will have to believe that this did in fact happen.  There is no other witness, so it comes down to how credible each of them is.  And the injured worker theoretically has a motivation to lie, so unless their story is very believable and/or the other party is not believable at all (and they might have a motivation to lie too) then it’s a very hard case.

What I always tell people is that the first thing you should do after an accident is get medical attention.  Of course there is nothing more important than your health.  After that, you need to make sure to report your accident to your employer.  I then encourage people to start keeping a journal that documents what happened, when it happened, who saw it and then tracks your medical progress.  It’s good for you in case some day your memory needs to be refreshed at a trial and it’s good for your lawyer too in getting a full understanding and history of what happened.  If it wasn’t witnessed, your detailed description can enhance your credibility.

Even in a repetitive trauma injury situation like getting carpal tunnel from excessive typing, it’s a good idea to log how often you typed and who could verify this.

Of course, some accidents aren’t witnessed and if that’s the case then you go with what you have.  In those situations though, reporting what happened right away and being consistent with your doctor in telling them what happened will strengthen your credibility. 

With this caller, we declined to get involved because she didn’t sound credible to me.  I asked her why she didn’t file a police report for battery and there wasn’t a real good response.  Had she gone to the police, that investigation would have served as a possible additional witness.  My personal opinion is that it didn’t happen and given that honesty is our #1 feature in a client, we took a pass on representing her or referring her to a lawyer in our network.