A caller to our office wanted to know if they could open up a case that was closed. In their case, they had injured their back three years ago and unfortunately for them, hired a terrible law firm to represent them on their case. The case was settled over a year ago and now this factory worker needs back surgery and can’t work.
It is almost certain that they can’t “re-open” this case. When you a settlement a work injury claim through the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, the settlement contract will almost always say that you give up your rights to future compensation as relates to this claim. In plain English that means you can’t get any more medical care or payment for time off work on the insurance company’s dime. Their motivation for offering a settlement is to close out your case for good in case something like this happens.
I do think the lawyer who handled this case screwed up and possibly there is a legal malpractice case there. For some workers, you settle your case, but then going back to the job aggravates the old injury and it allows you to file a brand new case for a new accident date. Unfortunately that won’t happen here as this worker never went back to the job. In general though, once you settle, there’s nothing you can do against work comp for that accident date.
So does this mean that every closed case can’t be opened? No!
I’ve been a lawyer since 1997 and what I’ve seen more and more in the last five years or so is that insurance companies are just randomly telling injured workers that their cases are closed. They will say something like, “Our doctors believe you should be better by now, so your case has been closed.” It’s a complete fabrication that is found nowhere in Illinois work comp law. But they do it because some workers don’t know any better and will believe them. If they delay you long enough you will lose your right to benefits.
So how does an injured Illinois worker open up a case that the insurance company says is closed even though there was no settlement contract? It’s rather simple assuming you didn’t wait too long. All we have to do is officially file the case with the State of Illinois by completing what is called an application for adjustment of claim. This is the paperwork that is filed in every work injury case and that has to be completed before the statute of limitations for filing has passed. Doing so assigns your claim to an Arbitrator and prevents the insurance company from ignoring you with a lie that your case is closed.
The other way an insurance company wrongly says a case is closed is when they’ve paid for all your time off work and all of your medical bills, but then say that they won’t offer a settlement because your case is closed. That just means it’s closed in their internal system, but it’s really just a lame strategy to make you think a settlement isn’t possible. While they aren’t required to offer a settlement by law, we can make it happen by just filing the case with the State. That usually makes them want to settle because it’s cheaper in the end to do so and if they don’t, we just present your case to an Arbitrator who will award you a settlement.
The bottom line is that you should never settle a case before you are 100% sure you won’t need more medical care and you should never take the insurance company’s word as gospel. They aren’t looking out for you at all. And if you want to discuss anything with an experienced work comp attorney for free, call us any time at 888-705-1766.