The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission used to have Arbitrators and Commissioners that were on the job for many years or even decades. You can argue whether that is good or bad (I mostly think it was good), but either way you can’t argue that things have changed.
Over the last few months and really since Rauner took office, there has been a lot of turnover and rumor of turnover. Some Arbitrators have resigned, some are telling people that they don’t know if they will get re-appointed and in at least one case, an Arbitrator refused to hear trials because his status was unknown.
So why should you care?
If your case goes to trial and the Arbitrator resigns or gets fired, they won’t be there to make a ruling on your case. That will require your attorney to pay for the trial transcript (this will ultimately come out of your pocket) so a new Arbitrator can read it and make a decision on your case. They will be doing this without the benefit of having seen and heard you and being able to judge your credibility. In cases where it’s a close call as to how they will rule, how you testified is usually the ultimate decider.
It also means you can expect to wait a long time to get a trial result. In the past they have often dumped these assignments on existing Arbitrators who have their own case load to worry about. Your case is going to be a low priority no doubt.
It’s already a problem for cases on appeal where we are hearing about cases waiting more than a year for a hearing date for some reason.
So while you want a lawyer to fight for you if your case is denied and needs to go to trial, ask them if doing so right now is a good idea. Some Arbitrators are for sure sticking around and some are taking off. Whether or not to go to trial is all a part of your big strategy in handling your claim.
The big reason behind this, in my opinion, is that Rauner has not stabilized the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission with his appointments and when you don’t know if you are going to have a job or not, even when lawyers agree you do a great job and are fair, it’s hard to do your work. It may even be a plan to hurt injured workers by making the system that much harder on them.
Bottom line though is that this is why hiring an attorney who focuses on work comp is important. If they aren’t up to date on case law as well as the ins and outs of what’s going on at the Commission, you could be the one who is hurt in the end.