A lot of work comp attorneys I know get caught up in whether an Arbitrator is friendly to injured workers or friendly to employees. There is something to that of course, but it’s nothing like 15-20 years ago where some Arbitrators were so pro insurance company that you would settle a case for less than it was worth if it was before them and some were so pro employee that you could usually get more than the case is worth.
Every month we get a mailing called the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Law Bulletin. It’s a way to stay up to date on big cases as well as see some interesting decisions from recent trials. If your lawyer isn’t reading this publication then I’d guess that work comp isn’t the main focus of their practice.
What I’ve noticed in reading these cases is that the Arbitrators seem to be getting most cases right. Each case description provides a summary of what happened, what the ruling was, why they ruled that way and what it means. I haven’t read a case summary in a while where I felt that they got it wrong and that includes the cases where they found against the injured worker.
One recent case I read that is a good example of the Arbitrators showing common sense involved a pizzeria manager who got a hernia. He didn’t have a specific accident, but proved that his job duties involved regularly lifting a 50 pound bag of dough mix and and 80 pound container of pizza dough which caused a pulling in his abdomen. He had a doctor who testified that this repetitive activity lead to the hernia.
The doctor for the insurance company helped them fight the case by saying the manager was obese and as a result that predisposed him to getting an umbilical hernia.
This case went all the way to the Illinois Appellate Court and the worker won the whole way through. It was really an incredible waste of money by the insurance company fighting this case because, as the Court noted, it’s completely reasonable to infer that the frequent heavy lifting contributed to the hernia problem no matter what other issues the injured worker had going on in his life.
In the same Bulletin, they highlighted a case where a settlement was paid based on a thumb injury, not a hand injury (which would have been worth more money) because all of the treatment was to the workers’ thumb and all grip strength loss was in the thumb.
They don’t always get it right, but I have more faith in our Arbitrators than ever before. So if you think that your case has strong facts on your side and you have a good lawyer in your corner, don’t be afraid to go to trial if you think you are being treated unfairly or a settlement offer isn’t big enough. There is of course always a risk, but the Arbitrators seem to be getting it right more often than not.