It used to be under Illinois workers’ compensation law that if you were injured while working and still under a doctor’s care, if you died from unrelated causes, your case mostly died with you. So if you hurt your back at work and while still in physical therapy if you died in a car accident or from cancer or any other unrelated reason, your estate couldn’t get a settlement. They could make a claim for any unpaid bills or wages, but that was it.
Earlier this year, a case called Bell v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission changed the way the law is interpreted.
Long story short, the Bell case says that if you die from unrelated causes, your estate can claim benefits that were accruable (owed) before a death. The Court went on to say that PPD benefits (the money you get for a settlement) are payable to an estate, even if there are no dependents like a spouse or child, because they are compensation for what would have been diminished earnings capacity.
I have to say that while this ruling is great for my clients and injured workers in general, it makes no sense. That said, I’m not going to argue against something that I think has a good result. Shortly after this decision, a woman came to me looking for legal help. Her son had been murdered and had a workers’ compensation case pending. Her lawyer told her that since he died, the case would have to be dismissed.
This “legal advice” was just plain wrong. This is the danger of hiring a law firm who does not handle Illinois work comp cases day in and day out. The Bell case wasn’t a huge one and didn’t get a lot of publicity. So many attorneys aren’t even aware of it. The ones who are subscribe to publications that list every court case relevant to Illinois work injuries. If you aren’t a lawyer who does that you wouldn’t know about this law change and you could end up dismissing a case that otherwise is a winner.
Hopefully you are never injured on the job and certainly we don’t want a loved one of yours to pass before their time. But do know that the law has changed and while it won’t bring anyone back, you shouldn’t lose out on what you are entitled to either, especially not because your law firm doesn’t know what they are doing.