In June, former Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission Arbitrator, Al Preibis, passed away at the age of 93. He was the first Arbitrator who I ever appeared before and was affectionately known as “Big Al The Workingman’s Pal.” Before you went to trial on a case he had a speech that he gave to injured workers letting them know what was going to happen. I can still after all of these years almost recite it word for word.
I started my career at a defense firm before I opened my own practice representing injured workers. You knew back then that if the case was before Arbitrator Preibis (who I liked) that it favored the injured worker.
There were other Arbitrators back then who were known as equally friendly to insurance companies no matter how good the claim appeared. Attorneys would settle the case for way less than what it was worth because they knew if they went to trial they could end up with nothing.
There were other characters that had been around for a while when I started practicing. Some were sweet (Arbitrator Brown used to handle all the pro se settlements and was just a super nice guy who worked in to his 90’s), some were mean (one guy in particular you felt like you were in the Soup Nazi episode when you went before him) and some you just knew that if they were buddies with the lawyer you had no chance.
My favorite (and worst) memory is when I was trying a case and the Arbitrator fell asleep while the injured worker was testifying. I can only imagine what the worker was thinking as they were surely expecting more from the legal system only to look over and see the person in charge of their fate was snoring. I know it made me question what I was doing with my life.
It’s not that there weren’t competent Arbitrators 20 years ago when I got started. There were and some of them are still around. It’s just that there were also a cast of old timers who basically did whatever they want.
I can’t guarantee you a result if you get hurt at work, but I can promise you that the Workers’ Comp Commission in Illinois is better, fairer and while not every Arbitrator is perfect, I do believe that in most cases you get a fair shot at justice which is really all that you can ask for.
So I raise a glass to the fond memory of Arbitrator Preibis. He was a nice guy and quite the character. And he certainly helped me get training to become a better attorney.
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