In most Illinois workers’ compensation cases, you get injured, you get treatment, you get better and you get back to work.

Sometimes you get seriously injured and are left with permanent restrictions.  This usually means that your doctor is restricting how much weight you can lift (common for back injuries).  Other times they may limit your overhead work (common with shoulder surgeries that don’t go well) or reduce your walking/standing (leg injuries).

If this happens to you and your job can’t accommodate these permanent restrictions, you might get vocational rehabilitation.  Depending on your age, education, job history and professional goals, it’s possible that the insurance company will have to pay for someone to help you look for a new job or even pay for you to go back to school so you can start a new career.  Every case is different so while a 65 year old worker isn’t going to be sent to college, it could certainly happen with someone in their 20’s and 30’s as long as there is a realistic plan that makes sense based on what happened to them.

Recently I was called by a laborer who had a lawyer, but was giving advice that caused him some concern.  The worker had a major injury and could no longer go back to their old job where they were making around $30.00 an hour. The lawyer, who has limited experience practicing work comp law, told him to quickly get the lowest paying job that he could find.  He went on to say that by doing this it would increase the value of the case and prevent the insurance company from providing vocational rehabilitation.

That advice was unfortunately way off base.

First off, you can’t prevent an insurance company from offering vocational rehabilitation by saying “the only job I can get pays minimum wage.” The whole point of voc is to show what you can earn. Second, this worker should want to get voc rehab because he has a desire to go back to school and since he’s younger there’s a great chance that the insurance company would have to pay for it.  He could continue getting benefits while he receiving training which would better him in  the long run.  Finally, if the worker were to say that they could only make minimum wage and an Arbitrator didn’t find that to be credible, they could actually cause their case to lose value.  In this case the lawyer wrongly said that doing this tactic would increase what the case is worth.

I don’t think the lawyer is a schemer, just young and poorly trained.  This does demonstrate why I never recommend you hire a green lawyer who doesn’t have proper experience or guidance, especially for a bigger case.  A good defense attorney will run circles around someone like that and the only person who will suffer as a result is you.  You don’t want your attorney to get his/her training by practicing on you.

The only silver lining for this caller is that they can switch lawyers at no cost to themselves right now or armed with their new education see if a more experienced lawyer at their firm can take it over.

You definitely have to watch for insurance company scams.  But if your lawyer seems to be trying to pull a fast one then it probably isn’t going to fly either.