Are You Having Trouble Getting In To See A Doctor?

About six weeks ago when Coronavirus started to rock our worlds in Illinois, we wrote a blog post about how COVID 19 will affect Illinois workers’ compensation cases.  The last thing mentioned is that we don’t know what we aren’t thinking of.  This is a new situation for everyone.  One thing that clearly wasn’t anticipated was how hard it would be for some workers to get in to see a doctor at all.

It’s not a surprise that elective surgeries aren’t happening.  And it makes sense that you aren’t going to go to an ER like Rush University Hospital where a lot of patients are being treated.  What was not forseen is that even in smaller cities like Decatur, people are having trouble getting in to see physicians beyond the ones that are company clinics.

When you can’t get in to see a doctor, your condition can get worse and you can’t get an off work slip which means that you won’t get any TTD benefits even if you aren’t working.  These are obviously two huge problems.  With the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission mostly closed, some workers can get screwed.

So is there a solution to this problem?

There is.  While generally speaking we don’t recommend that you let your attorney dictate what doctor to see, in these tough times if you can’t find a good doctor, most lawyers will know of someone good to refer you to.  You are allowed to choose your own physician.  It’s important to have someone in your corner who will give you an honest medical opinion and help you get better.

If you can’t go to an ER, there’s nothing wrong with going to a community clinic for your first visit.  If you have a back, knee, arm, foot or wrist injury, seeing an orthopedic doctor is the way to go.  While they might not be able to do a surgery for you (they might if your condition is really serious), they can usually treat you and refer you to physical therapy.  They can also give epidural steroid injections which can usually provide significant relief even if it’s temporary.

A good, experienced Illinois work comp attorney will also work with the insurance company to make sure that you are able to get the care you need and that bills will be paid.  There are cases that have said if you delay your medical care, it can affect your right to benefits.  COVID will surely create some exceptions to this rule, but we highly suggest that you document your attempts to get treatment.  Saying “I didn’t go to the doctor because I was worried about Coronavirus” will likely not be enough to sway an Arbitrator.

Bottom line is that it is harder to get in to a doctor now compared to normal. It is harder to get a surgery.  But none of this is impossible.  Even if you can’t get a surgery now, you can get one on the schedule in most cases.  Like always, you have to look out for you and of course it helps if your lawyer looks out for you too. If you want to speak with one of our attorneys for free, contact us at any time.

Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission Settlement Contract

One of the unique things about being an Illinois workers’ compensation attorney is that most of the documents you have clients sign, you don’t create. By that, I mean every lawyer uses the same attorney representation agreement on every case. It’s a state provided form.  By law, we have to use that agreement. This is different than every other area of law where an attorney would make up their own form.

We also don’t create unique forms for filing the case.  There is no lawsuit to prepare as you’d have to in a medical malpractice or car accident case.  We complete a document called an Application For Adjustment Of Claim.  We do have to fill in the unique info related to you such as your name, employer, where the accident took place, etc., but unlike a lawsuit, it’s a one page document.

The most important form that all cases use is the settlement contract.  It’s a two sided pink sheet.  Part of it is similar to the info entered when a case is filed, but a much bigger part is where having a smart attorney who is looking out for you comes in to play.

On the back of the contract is a big blank space where we enter the terms of the settlement.  In many cases that space isn’t enough so a rider to the contract will be created.  While this area states how much you are settling for, what’s more important are the specific terms.

Let’s say you settle a case for $100,000.00.  You think all of your medical bills but one for $5,000 have been paid.  If the terms don’t make clear that the insurance company has to pay that bill, you will eventually get stuck with it.

Another issue relates to future medical care.  If you negotiate that they will pay for future treatment, a specific provision has to be put in the contract.  If not, you are out of luck.

An additional big one happens when you settle as a worker getting a wage differential or permanent disability.  If you are on social security or think you will be soon, the contract MUST have something called spread language in it.  While you will still get your money in a lump sum, the law allows you to limit the amount that gets reported to social security.  If you don’t do this, you will either lose your social security benefits or have them drastically cut.

There are many other issues that go in to that contract like a Medicare set aside, attorney fees, who is responsible for past medical care and the body part that the injury is assigned to.  All of these can affect how much you receive now or could cost you money in the future if it’s not done right.

In cases where an insurance company doesn’t hire defense counsel, your lawyer will usually prepare the contract. If they do, they should write it in your favor.  If the insurance company does hire a lawyer, typically that attorney will write the contract.  That doesn’t mean you should just sign away.  You need to make sure your lawyer has gone over it and is sure that nothing in there could cause you harm.

This is real legal work that requires experience.  If you have any questions about this process, contact us for free at any time.

Good News For First Responders In Illinois Who Get COVID-19

There hasn’t been a ton of good news lately, so we will take what we can get.  Typically when you get injured or ill from your job, you have to prove that those problems are work related.  The other day, Governor Pritzker changed that for certain essential workers.  This is actually a very big deal.

Per the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, if you are a first responder or front line worker, and you say that you got Coronavirus from the job, it will be automatically assumed that you are telling the truth and that it is correct. It’s a very big deal, because even if you are around a lot of people all day, you can likely never say for sure where you got the virus.  As a result, you will automatically get work comp benefits which means 100% of your medical bills will be paid for and all of your time off work will be compensated.  You will also be eligible for a settlement.

Those covered include health care workers, police and fire personnel, corrections officers, grocery store workers and food producers.  We’ve heard nightmare stories of some workers not wanting to go to the doctor because they don’t want to be stuck with a big bill.  That should no longer be a concern.  These workers have all been heroes.  There have been stories about some hospitals arguing with nurses about where exactly they got exposed. This ruling puts an end to that nonsense.

It of course makes perfect sense.  Why should an EMT have to worry about paying their bills if they get sick in the line of duty. If cashiers and stockers are keeping grocery stores open, they deserve to be protected.

Not surprisingly, allegedly “pro-business” groups came out against this.  Unfortunately they don’t understand that being pro worker is good for a business.  But who cares what they think?  I sure don’t.

Please note that this is not a permanent order.  It’s effective for 150 days from April 10th.  It’s also possible the order will get extended or shortened, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Like this pandemic itself, this is a very fluid and fast changing time. If you are reading this a month from now, things may be drastically different.  As always, no matter what your concern is, we will talk to you for free no matter where in Illinois you are.  Call us at 312-346-5578 any time.

IL Work Comp – When You Are Exposed To Chemicals At Work

Some Illinois workers comp injuries are obviously a case.  If you are walking down the hall and slip on a wet floor, tearing your ACL, it’s kind of hard to dispute that.  If hot grease burns your face, leaving a big scar, most likely the only issue in that claim is what is it worth?

Other cases aren’t as crystal clear.  You might know in your heart that your medical problems are from the job, but proving that at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission is a different story.

I thought of this recently when I read about an Illinois worker with renal failure.  Renal disease is an injury to your kidneys that can be caused by many factors although the top two are high blood pressure and diabetes.  Proving renal disease is related to your job is no easy task.

In the case I read about, a worker testified that he had worked at a rubber plant for more than 20 years and constantly was exposed to numerous toxic chemicals. He gave very specific testimony about an eight year period in which he was exposed to a product called Cure-Rite 18 and inhaled dust from the product as well as had skin contact with it.  A co-worker testified and corroborated the testimony and evidence of a study that showed workers were exposed to an excessive amount of these chemicals was entered in to evidence.

Having the study was very important in proving that the worker was exposed to hazardous chemicals.  You may know what you’ve been exposed to, but in most jobs you wouldn’t be considered an expert enough in order to testify about the danger they cause. You also wouldn’t be seen as objective.

The second big factor in winning this case was the doctor for the injured worker.  He testified that two of the chemicals the worker was exposed to were known to cause the development of kidney disease.  This doctor went above and beyond the call of duty.  His testimony showed that he did extensive medical research on these chemicals and the harm that they can cause. This persuaded the Arbitrator as did the fact that the treating doctor spent significantly more time with this worker than the IME doctor did.

A chemical exposure case, especially one with a serious injury, is almost always going to go to trial.  These are not easy cases to win, but as this case shows, they are winnable when the evidence is on your side and a lot of hard work is done.  What’s interesting about this case is that this worker also had diabetes which as stated above is a big cause of kidney disease.  That shows how persuasive the doctor was and how well presented the case was a trial.

The real big lesson is that if you have a chemical exposure claim, you better have an attorney with a track record of taking cases to trial in your corner.  This was a very defendable case that appears to be have won because the work comp lawyer for this worker did an excellent job.  That great work in getting all of the evidence in was literally the difference between winning and losing.

IL Workers Comp When You Are Furloughed

It’s always free to talk to us about your workers compensation questions.  Call us at 312-346-5578 or fill out our contact form and we will call you. We work with lawyers all over Illinois so we can help you no matter where you are located.

Furloughed is one of the new common words of 2020.  I’m not sure why we are saying that instead of saying laid off, but whatever you call it, more than 16 million Americans have lost their jobs in the last few weeks.

For most people, if you get let go, either permanently or temporarily, filing filing for unemployment makes sense.  But for the people I talk to, the ones who are hurt have been hurt at work, you might want to do something different.

A lot of people get injured on the job and even though they are still seeing the doctor, they are able to work. If you have any work restrictions, once you get let go, instead of getting unemployment, you should begin to get TTD benefits. It’s likely more money and it doesn’t expire.  If you end up off work with restrictions for a year, you should get paid for that whole year.

This isn’t anything new.  It’s how it’s always been for laid off workers.  COVID 19 presents something unique to Illinois work comp. A lot of people who get injured on the job would need restrictions, but never ask get them from their doctor because they aren’t needed to do their job or they work for someone who won’t ask for the restrictions, but instead will let the worker tell them what they can do.

So if you work as a cook and have a back injury where you can’t lift boxes of food, you might not have formal, written restrictions.  It may be that your boss is cool and has others help you with lifting.  Now you find yourself out of a job and in reality shouldn’t be lifting more than 20 pounds.

If this is your situation, you need to immediately call your doctor and ask them to put your need for work restrictions in writing.  If you have that, you should begin to get TTD benefits and keep getting them until your restrictions go away or you get a job that is within your restrictions.

Now Illinois work comp law is famous for insurance companies not always doing what they should be doing.  With Coronavirus, we’ve seen many insurance companies tell workers that they should just be filing for unemployment.  That’s a terrible idea.  Unemployment benefits run out. Work comp does not.  And if you medically don’t need restrictions, you could then file for unemployment at that time.

Like normal times, insurance companies are going to look out for themselves, not you.  Don’t take legal advice from them.  If you have been hurt at work it’s more important than ever to at least get a consultation to know your rights and options.  Contact us any time if you want to speak to an attorney for free.

Beware Illinois Lawyers With Little Work Comp Experience

We are open always, even during Coronavirus.  Call us for a free consultation any time at 312-346-5578.

Although law firms have been declared an essential business with the COVID-19 shutdown, like most other professions, business is down for everyone that I talk to.

What ends up happening to some attorneys when they lose money, is they stop thinking about what’s best for the client, and start thinking about what’s best for the firm.

This became crystal clear to me the other day, when I got a call from an experienced civil attorney in Chicago.  The way I understand it, the lawyer that used to handle work comp cases in their firm left and did not take the remaining cases with him.

So now a lawyer, who has only dabbled in work comp, is being asked to handle all work comp cases that the firm has.  He called me asking if I knew of any good CLE’s (continuing legal education) seminars that will help him get up to speed.

This attorney is trying to learn the law, which I respect, but I told him that I don’t think this is a good idea.  The only way to really learn workers comp is through trial and error. If they make an error, it’s going to come at the expense of their clients.  Even if they think they are going to only handle “easy” cases, some easy cases become complicated unexpectedly.  Some times you don’t know what you don’t know and that can hurt the client.

My belief is that a lot of firms do this because they are thinking it will lead to more money for them.  This isn’t a new phenomenon.  I’ve seen divorce lawyers try to handle car accidents because they think it will be easy.  More often than not, they screw it up and need to bring an experienced lawyer in or end up getting sued.

I’d love to make millions off of a medical malpractice lawsuit, but I know that I have no idea how to handle those cases and even if I tried to learn, I know that there are way better firms that have a track record of success.  That’s why I always refer med mal cases to those firms.   It’s the right thing to do for the client which is all that should matter.

Whatever type of case you have, I highly recommend that before you hire a lawyer, ask them what percentage of their practice is in the area you are dealing with and how many cases they’ve tried in the last year.  If it’s work comp and they aren’t at least 75% work comp (preferably 90-100%) with at least ten trials in the last year, then they are not the right firm for you.  It’s not to say that they couldn’t do a good job for you, it’s just that they don’t, in my opinion, give you the best chance success.

Is It Worth It To Hire A Workers’ Compensation Attorney?

A recent caller to my office was very blunt, which I love, because I am very blunt.  Being straightforward is the best way to be as a lawyer.

He had torn his biceps and labrum on the job.  He went to an IME who agreed with his treating doctor that he needed surgery.  The caller works in southern Illinois so he wasn’t asking to hire me which makes sense because getting someone local would be better for him.  What he bluntly asked me was, “Is it even worth it to get an attorney?”

It’s a common concern and the answer isn’t always yes.  Everyone’s case is different and if you have a minor injury or a statutory one (amputation for example), there might not be much an Illinois work comp attorney can do for you unless your benefits get denied.

But for major injuries like this one, even when the case is accepted or the insurance company seems like they are being nice, it’s almost always worth it to get a lawyer. There are a lot of reasons why:

1. It doesn’t cost anything to hire and Illinois workers’ compensation attorney so you aren’t saving money by waiting until something goes wrong.

2. If something does go wrong (e.g. they won’t approve a medical procedure, your TTD checks are late, a bill isn’t paid, etc.) if a case has already been filed it will allow you to get in to court much faster to solve the problem.

3. Insurance companies often do the wrong thing when you aren’t represented just to see if they can get away with it.

4. Sometimes you don’t realize they are doing something against the law because they do it with a smile.  For example, it’s common that the insurance company will assign a nurse to contact your doctor.  Doing so for anything other than to ask for a copy of your records and bills is against the law, but it happens all the time.  The number on violation they do is try to convince your doctor to change your restrictions. These illegal actions can seriously hurt your health.

5. Dealing with an insurance company can be stressful. You should focus on your health and recovery.  Beyond that, you are going to likely be dealing with an adjuster who has years of experience.  It’s not a fair fight if you go at alone.

6. Along the lines of having someone ready to go if something goes wrong, if you have a long term injury and don’t get an attorney for a year, when you do hire them they are not only playing catch up for what is currently going on, but they might be missing important details  from the beginning of the case that you’ve forgotten. For example, if you slipped on a wet floor, we’d want to know what you slipped on, who saw it, who you reported it to at work, what you told them, what you told the adjuster, etc.  It’s not that you can’t find this stuff out (although sometimes you can’t), it’s that having to work backwards puts you at a disadvantage because the insurance company has a file from day one of your accident.

7. At worst, having an attorney is a security blanket in case something does go wrong or you just want to have someone to bounce questions off of.  You’ll never know what the insurance company didn’t do because you have a good lawyer that they would have otherwise done.

8. But the biggest for most people seems to be that having a lawyer, even after their 20% fee, almost always puts more money in your pocket in the end.  Based on my 22+ years of experience, if an insurance company does agree to make a settlement offer to you, the first thing they do is cut it by 20% because you don’t have a lawyer.  They make offers on the low end of what you’d get if you did have representation if they make an offer at all.  I can’t recall one case where someone called me and was given more without an attorney than they would have gotten with one.

9. And when you do settle, it’s incredibly important to make sure you have a lawyer in your corner to deal with the settlement contract.  Not doing this could cause you to have to pay some medical bills related to your case and/or miss out on some future medical treatment payments. The worst example I saw was when a contract was so badly written that it forced the injured worker to have to pay taxes on their settlement even though these settlements are typically tax free.

There are more reasons of course, but getting someone who cares about you and is experienced will almost always make the case go better for you.  We cover all of Illinois through our state wide network. If you want a free consultation you can contact us at any time.

Sciatica And Illinois Workers’ Compensation Claims

If you have back pains while on the job, you are not alone: A 2015 study found that nearly 40 million American workers suffer from chronic back pain. That is more than a quarter of the workforce reporting back pain severe enough to affect their ability to work.  I can tell you as an Illinois work comp attorney with over 22 years of experience, it’s the most common call that I get.

The back is actually a very complicated structure of bones, joints, ligaments and muscles so it shouldn’t be too surprising to hear such an extreme number of reported back pain. One can easily sprain ligaments, strain muscles, rupture disks and irritate joints, all leading to back pain.

Although this is a commonly shared condition, the type of back pain experienced by each person varies widely. The lower back is the most common area affected, which has a lot to do with how our bodies move and work.

Some of the more common low back problems that arise are:

  • Lumbar disc herniation (spinal disc extrudes and places pressure on a nerve root)
  • Lumbar degenerative disc disease (breakdown of discs, which act as cushions between the vertebrae)
  • Isthmic spondylolisthesis (a condition in which one vertebra slips forward over another one)
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back)
  • Lumbar subluxation (a term describing an altered position of the vertebra in the low back causing functional loss)

What you may not know is these common lower back problems are also the most common causes to sciatica. The term sciatica is often times used incorrectly to explain leg pain, low back pain and other sciatica symptoms. Contrary to what many believe, sciatica is actually a set of symptoms rather than a diagnosis for what is causing pain.

The sciatic nerve runs from the feet, through the legs, buttocks and to the back of the pelvis. When this nerve becomes compressed or irritated you get sciatica. Common symptoms include pain, tingling and/or numbness around the lower back, buttocks and down the lower legs and feet. A patient may also experience muscle weakness or spasms, difficulty walking, standing from a seated position, and difficulty bending or raising one leg.

Living with sciatica can be quite difficult. The immense pain the problem brings along can hamper movement and affect daily life. Approximately five percent of people with back pain have sciatica and it is commonly found in Workers Compensation Claims.

Many injuries that cause sciatica occur due to a singular, traumatic accident or they may develop over time, with repeated pressure placed on the spine. Workers at a higher risk are in occupations that require them to lift heavy objects, turn in awkward positions, stand or sit for extended periods or repeatedly bend at the waist.

Whether it’s us or another law firm, if you have sciatica or another back problem, we highly recommend that you get an experienced lawyer in your corner that has a history with these cases and really understands the medicine behind it.  If you’d like to talk to one of our lawyers for free, call us any time at 312-346-5320. We cover all of Illinois.

Staffing Agency Injuries In Illinois

A caller to my office has been working at a well known company for over six months.  She has been doing the same job as every full-time employee in the department who has been there for years.  She’s just not an employee of this Chicago area company.  How is that possible?

Well, she was placed there by a staffing agency.  So even though her day to day activities are no different than those of people paid directly by the company, she’s paid and employed by a temp service.  This is true despite the fact that her work hasn’t been temporary.

As you can probably guess, she called me because she was injured while performing her job duties.  She slipped on a wet floor, hurting her knee and wanted to know who she had a case against.

In this situation, it is almost certain that her work comp claim is against the staffing company.  The contracts they and you sign make them the employer and even though it’s likely nobody from the staffing agency is on site at this factory, that doesn’t matter.

The second question is since the floor was wet, can she sue the borrowing employer that the temp agency assigned to her.  You’d think that the answer would be yes, but in Illinois it’s generally no.  An Illinois Appellate Court found that a borrowing employer is “immune from tort liability.”  In plain English that means you can’t sue them for negligence.  You also can’t sue the staffing agency for negligence because they are your employer.

The good news is that an Illinois workers’ compensation claim is not a lawsuit.  So you still get all of your medical bills paid, all your lost time paid and a settlement for the permanent nature of your injuries.

Beyond that, there are some things we think all temp workers should know:

1. You have the same rights as every other worker in Illinois.

2. You are covered under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act the moment you start working.

3. If you are hurt while on the job, you should notify the employer you were staffed at as well as the staffing agency.

4. It does not matter if you do not have health insurance if you were hurt while working.  100% of your medical bills should be covered by the work comp insurance company.  Notify the ER or any doctor you see that it is a work related injury.

As always, we get that some of this can be confusing.  If you have any questions or want our help with a case, call or email us for free any time. We help with cases all over Illinois.

Workers’ Compensation When Your Employer Goes Out Of Business

In the last two weeks I’ve said, “We’ve never seen anything like this before,” about 20 times.  Unemployment filings in Illinois are unfortunately at record highs, and many companies are unofficially out of business.  We’ve seen it the most with restaurants, but there are plenty of other businesses that have had to close their doors.

This is a work comp blog for Illinois.  So the question I’ve been getting a lot is, “What happens to my workers comp case now that my company has shut its doors?”

The answer for just about everyone is nothing.  Nothing happens, at least not anything bad.  If a restaurant or store goes under, that doesn’t change the fact that they paid for insurance that was in place when you got hurt.  That insurance still has to pay 100% of your medical bills, all of your time off work and for any settlement that you get when you are done treating and as good as you are going to get physically.

If you were working at your job with restrictions such as no lifting over 20 pounds and then suddenly you are out of a job, you should start getting TTD benefits until you are released by your doctor with no restrictions.

The key point to remember here is that your employer shut down, but not their insurance company. If an insurance company files for bankruptcy – and realistically, insurance companies are going to have huge profits from all of this most likely – that would affect your case. But your boss having to shut the doors does not harm your work comp case.

Beyond all of this, if you were a high wage earner and now have permanent restrictions, if you have no job to go back to you are entitled to vocational rehabilitation and potentially a wage different settlement or award of permanent disability. It’s certainly going to be hard to find a job if you don’t have one. The Illinois work comp system doesn’t punish you for this.  In fact it protects you.

The only exception to all of this is if your company is self insured and goes under.  That hasn’t happened yet, but if United Airlines or Amazon or some other multi billion dollar corporation were to go under, your work comp benefits would be delayed.  Most people do not have to worry about this, but in essence it would not just mean that the employer went out of business, but the insurance company did too because they handle their work comp claims in house instead of paying for insurance.  Hopefully we never get to that point.

Bottom line is that we have enough to stress about right now and I don’t want you to stress about your work comp benefits because your job is now gone. If we can help in any way or you just have some questions, please call us for free at any time to speak with a lawyer.