I’m coming up on my 25th year of being an Illinois attorney. I had an interesting conversation with another experienced lawyer and we were discussing the ways work comp has changed since we both became attorneys. I thought it would make an interesting post, so here are 20 ways workers compensation in Illinois has changed since I became an attorney in 1997.
1. While it’s now called the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, it used to be the Illinois Industrial Commission. The new name makes way more sense.
2. The main office is in Chicago, and forever was housed at the Thompson Center on the 8th floor. It’s now located downstairs at the Daley Center, 50 W. Washington. That is the main courthouse in Cook County.
3. It was way more common back in the day for downstate hearing locations to be in random places like hotel meeting rooms.
4. Arbitrators would stick around forever back in the 90’s. You almost never saw someone get fired or not getting re-appointed.
5. As part of Arbitrators not sticking around forever, we no longer see Arbitrators falling asleep during hearings. I’ll never forget the first time I saw that as a young lawyer. They’d never get away with that today.
6. Right now, Democrats are in control of most branches of state government which is theoretically good for injured workers. Back in the 1990’s it was the opposite and we are quite honestly lucky that the laws weren’t changed back then to heavily favor employers.
7. When I first started practicing law, there were around 70,000 cases filed every year. Last year that number dropped to around 33,000. Even before Covid the total cases filed were down to around 40,000 a year. Insurance companies haven’t dropped their rates though.
8. Cases are worth more money now because settlement value is in part based on wages and wages have gone up almost every year.
9. There is now a medical fee schedule that determines what a payment to a doctor will be for services rendered. This has made the whole process work much more smoothly. In the past a doctor would send out a bill, the insurance company would pay what they thought was reasonable and we’d have to fight over the balance.
10. Along the same lines, medical providers can now charge interest on bills that are not paid in a timely manner.
11. In my opinion, Arbitrators seem more willing to write awards for penalties and fees than they were years ago. So if your case is wrongly denied, get to trial.
12. There is now a damage cap on injured workers with carpal tunnel syndrome who make a full return to work. This all stems from some downstate prison guard cases from years ago that made a lot of headlines for possible abuse of the system.
13. You can look cases up online now. So if you call us for a second opinion on your claim, we can usually tell you if your attorney is doing what they should be. In the old days, the only way to look up case information was to go to the Illinois Industrial Commission and look at their very slow computers. This is great for everyone and makes it more efficient.
14. You can also file a lot of paperwork online now which is a huge plus.
15. Medicare set asides are much more common now. The end result is that for workers with serious injuries, they should get even more money to settle their case.
16. Arbitrator locations rotate now. It used to be an Arbitrator would hold hearings in the same part of the state for years and years. That is no longer true outside of Chicago.
17. It seems that there are more attorneys than ever trying to dabble in workers compensation law because the cases are worth more money. That’s a huge red flag for injured workers. Make sure your attorney is handling work comp all day, every day.
18. Lawyers are being really aggressive with their advertising, especially with billboards and TV. This includes some attorneys who aren’t even physically in Illinois hiring attorneys here under their name.
19. With the rise of the internet, some law firms are making misleading claims, especially when it comes to their success rate or the amount they’ve recovered. Some of these firms include medical bills that they do nothing to get paid or count a $500 nuisance value settlement as a “win.”
20. Maybe I wasn’t aware of it back then, but it sure seems that some law firms customer service has gotten drastically worse. It really makes no sense because text and email should make it easier to communicate with clients whereas in 1997 most people could only talk on the phone or meet in person. I think that technology has caused some firms to reduce their staff. One of the end results is that these firms don’t call people back in a timely manner because they are overworked. Others just don’t care and if they do call you back will lie or be rude.
Hopefully things don’t change too drastically in the next 20 years. As always, if you want to speak with a lawyer for free, contact us any time. We cover all of Illinois.