Merry Christmas, We Are Open

I hope everyone has a safe and fun holiday.  While nobody is in our office today, we return calls and answer emails right away every day of the year.

So if you have a question about Illinois workers’ compensation law, and want an answer today or New Year’s Day or any other day, just call us or fill out our contact form, and we will call you.

We thank all of our clients and readers who have made this a great year and look forward to another great year in 2020.

Cheers!

Prison Employee Wins His Case For Falling On The Stairs

This was a southern Illinois work comp case we didn’t handle, but read about.  To me it’s interesting.

A supervisor at a prison hurt his shoulder and hand when he fell forward while going up the stairs at the start of his work day.  He was carrying a drink in one hand and his keys in the other.  While going through his keys to find the one to his office, he caught his toe on a step and fell forward.

He was carrying a drink because there was no water fountain on his floor and messing with his keys because his door was kept locked for security reasons.  Those facts helped win his case, but what was interesting about this one is the third reason he won.

Generally speaking, if you fall on stairs and there’s not a problem with them (like they were wet) you will lose the case. You have to show something about the job caused you to be at an increased risk of injury.  On the other hand, if the job creates a risk that the general public isn’t exposed to, you can still win.

In this case, the lawyer for the worker screwed up, in my opinion.  And that’s what makes it interesting.  Most Arbitrators will only rely on the evidence presented.  In this case, there was no evidence about whether or not the public could use these stairs.  That could have doomed the case and was an error by the lawyer not to ask that questions. This Arbitrator, rightly as far as I’m concerned, concluded that since the stairs were in a prison if could be inferred they were not available for the public to use.

These three factors allowed the Arbitrator to rule that the injury arose out of the employment and that this worker was at an increased risk for an accident.

Essentially it seems that the Arbitrator saved the attorney from a legal malpractice lawsuit.  He did this by using common sense which is what we should want all Judges to do whether it helps or hurts our case. If it’s all about getting the ruling right they should act this way.

Falls on stairs at work can be tricky and are often fought by insurance companies. You really need an attorney who knows the right questions to ask and can show a track record of winning these cases. You certainly can’t expect an Arbitrator to bail out your lawyer when they don’t ask the right questions.  This worker got lucky and that’s good because it was the right result.

Bankart Tear And Illinois Workers Compensation Law

We are Chicago work comp attorneys who handle cases all over Illinois.  For a free consultation, give us a call, start a live chat or fill out our contact form and we will call you.

When people think of the shoulder they generally just think of a ball-and-socket joint made up of the arm bone and the shoulder blade. However, the shoulder is so much more complex with four separate joints and seventeen different muscles. All of these structures work together to make the shoulder one of the most mobile joints in the body. This also means the shoulder is highly susceptible to injury. If you injured your shoulder at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation.

The shoulders are very important, and often neglected, parts of your body. Being the most moveable joint, your shoulders help you with everyday tasks. They are also the most unstable joint in the body. The “ball” in the upper arm is actually larger than the socket that holds it. To remain stable, it must be kept in place by muscles, ligaments and tendons. Most problems in the shoulder are not in the bones, but rather involve the muscles, ligaments and tendons. With the range of motion in the shoulder being so great, it is susceptible to injury.

If you have pain in your shoulder it could have many causes. One of the more common causes would be a tear of the labrum. The labrum is a ring of cartilage around the shoulder socket that helps keep the shoulder stable. There are two types of tears that commonly occur here: a Bankart lesion tear and a SLAP lesion tear (superior labral tear from anterior to posterior). Let’s just focus on the Bankart tear for now.

A Bankart tear is a specific injury to the labrum. The shoulder joint is similar to the hip in that is a ‘ball and socket’ joint. Again, the socket of the shoulder joint is extremely shallow and unstable. Being unstable just means that the shoulder can more easily come out of the socket. This is where the labrum comes into play. To compensate for the shallow socket, the shoulder cuff uses the labrum cartilage to form a deeper socket for the ball of the top of the arm bone (the humerus) to move within. The labrum does allow for the shoulder joint to be much more stable, yet still allow for a wide of range of movements. In fact, the range of movements of your shoulder far exceeds any other joint in the body.

The stability of the shoulder joint may be compromised when the labrum of the shoulder joint is torn. This type of tear usually occurs when an individual first sustains a shoulder dislocation. As the shoulder pops out of its joint, it often tears the labrum. If the labrum tears, there is not enough cushion between those bones.

The first symptom before all others will be pain. If you also experience any of the following symptoms you may have a shoulder joint tear:

  • Pain during activities requiring mobility of the shoulder or overhead activities
  • Pain in shoulder during sleep or night
  • A sensation in your shoulder that feels like “catching, locking, popping or grinding’
  • Instability in your shoulder
  • Decreased shoulder mobility
  • Decrease in shoulder strength.

A common misconception is that shoulder injuries happen only with athletes. They do, but they can also happen in doing everyday tasks and at work. Jobs requiring manual labor or repetition can often cause injury to the shoulder. Falling on an outstretched arm, a direct hit to the shoulder, a sudden tug on the arm, a sudden pull when lifting heavy object or trying to stop a fall in an overhead reach position are all possible ways of injuring.

For a Bankart tear, there are two treatment options: surgical and non-surgical. The right route of treatment will heavily depend on factors such as age, activity level and level of instability.

Like with any work injury, it is important you notify your work as soon as possible if you injured your shoulder at work.  The next step is to get to a doctor and tell them what happened. Make sure you are clear about your job duties.

Illinois Work Comp Insurance Companies Are Saving Money For Your Benefit

Here’s an unusual occurrence.  Insurance companies that handle Illinois workers’ compensation claims are doing something that makes some cases worth more money.  That’s right, they are putting more money in your pocket.

In the last few years a trend has developed.  Office space, especially in Chicago, is really expensive.  Since most claims are handled electronically, insurance companies are downsizing their office space and asking adjusters who handle the cases to work from home.  While they can still come in to the office for meetings or whenever needed, for the most part they are in their home office.

This strategy saves insurance companies millions of dollars a year.  It also costs them money too.

What we are seeing and also hearing from other lawyers is that many of these adjusters don’t want to come in to the City at all.  Some are now even living hours away from their home office.  I had one defense attorney tell me that he can’t get his insurance adjuster clients to come downtown for educational seminars or file reviews.

So what happens is that some adjusters aren’t as up to date on law changes as they should be.  Others want to avoid the City so badly, especially in winter, that instead of meeting with their lawyers they will just give in on a case.

In most cases an adjuster has autonomy to make decisions on what is paid or not paid up to a certain dollar amount.  It varies by company, but it’s not unusual for one of them to be able to spend up to $100,000 on a claim without having to meet or talk much about it.

So you can imagine a contested case where your lawyer wants $50,000 to settle and their attorney is telling them to only offer $30,000 max.  If the adjuster has $42,000 left on her budget, she might just approve that amount instead of having to come in and talk about it.  It sounds crazy, but things like this do happen.  The end result is almost always more money in your pocket.  It’s not to say that they won’t fight cases, but they do become lazier when they can work in their pajamas or “work” while watching TV, grocery shopping, picking the kids up from school, etc.

There is a downside to this telecommuting. If you’ve wondered why you can’t get a phone call returned it’s probable that it’s because they are spending less time at a work desk.  It’s the reality of work from home jobs, especially with lower level, lower paid staffers.

This is not something most attorneys would think of, but it’s the reality of handling work comp cases in this day and age.  Heck, if you have a case that might go to trial and the insurance adjuster is a witness, I’d want to know how far their commute to court will be and potentially use that to your advantage.  Rather than take the train on a cold, snowy day, they might be inclined to make their best offer the day or week before.

I hate the term “thinking out of the box” but this is the type of thought process an Illinois work comp attorney needs to have.

As always, we welcome your calls or emails 24/7 and it’s free to contact us.

Is My Injury Big Enough To Bring An Illinois Work Comp Case?

A reader emailed me and asked if her injury was even big enough to file an Illinois workers’ compensation case. In this case it clearly was as she had 20 stitches to her face.  A case like that will ultimately have some decent settlement value. It will also likely require some significant medical treatment.

The reality is that almost every work related injury in Illinois is worth reporting to your employer and making sure 100% of your medical bills are paid for.  Until we have some sort of universal health care in this country, if you are hurt while working, you shouldn’t have ANY out of pocket expenses.  So even if you just cut your pinky and need three stitches, if it happens at work that bill should be paid by the work comp insurance company.

The bigger question is, is your case big enough that you need a lawyer?

The answer to that depends. If you strain your back, go to the doctor, do three weeks of physical therapy and feel great, if you make a return to work successfully, the only reason you’d need a lawyer is if your bills don’t get paid or they won’t offer you a settlement.

On the flip side, if you have a longer term injury, that’s when getting an attorney makes sense.  Even if it appears that the insurance company is doing everything fairly, often they are not.  Some red flags to look out for include: Being asked to give a recorded statement; Getting sent to an IME; A nurse case manager being involved on your case; Late TTD checks; Delays in getting any medical procedures approved; Surveillance being done on you (you probably won’t know this is happening);

Even when there are no red flags, if your injury is long term, having an attorney to ask questions of makes sense.  If something suddenly goes wrong on the case they are up to speed and ready to file a court motion to solve your problem.  And in the end you will never get more on a settlement by yourself than you would with a lawyer.

We don’t get involved in small injury cases.  We feel our resources are best used for clients that need them.  That does not mean you don’t have a case if you cut your finger or get a bad bruise on your leg.  Different law firms have different standards.

I’m not sure that I’ve made this any less confusing. So what I can tell you is that if you want to know if you should file a case or just have any general questions about Illinois work comp law, you can call us any time, for free at 312-346-5578.

Can Your Attorney Take 20% Of Your TTD Check?

We have a live chat feature on our site and a recent chatter stunned me.  She was injured at work and her case was accepted.  When she hired a lawyer she was receiving TTD benefits and those benefits never stopped.  The lawyer took on the case and started taking 20% of the TTD checks. When the worker asked why, the lawyer said it’s because she had to read through hundreds of pages of medical records.

This is grossly illegal.  It’s flat out theft.  It’s also unlike any attorney I’ve ever come across.  Even the scummiest ones I see will only take 20% when benefits are denied and then reinstated.

While this is clearly not allowed, the question is when can your attorney take 20% of your TTD check?

To me, the question really is when should they do this.  By law, it can technically happen when there is a dispute in your case and your benefits get reinstated.  But there are different levels of dispute.  Here are some scenarios.

1. You are on TTD benefits for an injured back.  You see the doctor once a month and the doctor always faxes an off work slip to the insurance adjuster.  This month the adjuster claims she never got the note, so she doesn’t issue a check. Your lawyer calls her, finds out the problem and then gets an off work slip from your doctor. They fax it in and benefits are reinstated. Technically there was a dispute, but it was so minor that in our opinion your attorney shouldn’t take anything.  If they do, they should only do it for the pay that was missing.  Some scummy attorneys will try to take it from every check from here on out.  That shouldn’t happen.

2. Your doctor has you off of work.  A previous IME had said your condition is work related.  A year goes by and they send you to a new IME who says the injury is not work related.  The insurance company uses that report to cut off your benefits.  Your lawyer files a 19b trial motion and the insurance adjuster, realizing their position isn’t strong, reinstates your pay.  This is just slightly more work than the first example.  We’d take nothing for this. Some firms would take 20% of the disputed period.  Anyone who takes more than that is wrong in my opinion.

3. After a back injury your doctor takes you off of work. You are scheduled for surgery and are receiving TTD benefits.  The insurance company does surveillance on you which shows you working on a car in a manner that appears to go beyond what your doctor said you can do.  As  a result they cut off your benefits.  We take a deposition of your doctor and their IME doctor.  We then do a pre-trial before the Arbitrator who says if it goes to trial he will likely rule in your favor.  Based on this the insurance company agrees to pay back all of the owed TTD and reinstate you going forward.  We’d take 20% of the back TTD, but nothing going forward.  A lot of firms would take 20% of everything and we think that is inappropriate.  The reason we’d take anything at all is because of the work put in by taking the depositions and doing the pre-trial.

4. Same as number three, but the case goes to trial.  When the result comes back, you win the case and are awarded six months of back TTD benefits.  The result also means that they have to start paying you going forward.  We’d take the 20% from the six months, but nothing else.  Not all firms would do that, but instead would try to take 1/5 of everything from here on out.  We disagree with that still.

In our opinion, if you have a lawyer who is taking money off of future benefits, not past benefits, you should fire them.  They will still get paid when the case is settled.  Taking more than what they’ve earned, in our opinion, is close to theft.

If you have any questions about what we think is appropriate when it comes to Illinois work comp attorney fees, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Why You Will Win Your Illinois Work Comp Trial

No attorney can guarantee anything, but we can certainly say what is 99% likely based on years and years of experience.

I thought of this the other day when I read about an injured worker who took his case to trial.  He was lifting a case of product when he felt a pop in his back.  He was employed through a staffing company and had only been on the job for about six weeks.  If you know anything about temp agencies, they feel no personal connection to their employees and deny work comp cases as a matter of routine.

Sure enough they denied this case even though he reported it right away, went to the doctor right away, told the doctor it happened at work and there was no evidence that he was hurt in any other manner.  The staffing company denied the case because it was unwitnessed.  Having a witness is not needed to win your work comp case.

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission ruled in his favor.  They noted the following:

1. Not having a witness does not bar recovery.

2. The medical records were consistent with his testimony.

3. The written statement he gave to his employer was consistent with his medical records and testimony.

4. He had no physical complaints or treatment prior to the date of accident.

5. The insurance company offered no evidence to rebut his testimony.

All of these things taken together made the case a winner.  This is how it goes in most Illinois work comp trials.  Surprisingly, the biggest reason people win trials, in my opinion, is reason number five.  When there is no one else to testify as to why your story isn’t true, it surely makes it seem more likely, especially when you come across as credible.

Arbitrators aren’t dumb.  They are suspicious of people whose stories have changed.  Suspicious of people who have filed many cases in the past, especially when it’s to the same body part.  And they are suspicious of people who seem a little too slick.

However, if you honestly were injured on the job, get treatment, report the accident and listen to your doctors, unless there is some mystery witness to call you a liar, you should win your case.

It doesn’t always go that way. If your attorney isn’t prepared things can fall apart.  If you haven’t been 100% honest things can fall apart.  If someone is out to get you and will lie on a witness stand, you could lose your case.

In most cases though, if you are honest, credible and nothing is really against you, you should win the case.

As always, if you have ANY QUESTIONS, call or email us any time for a free consultation.

How Not Having A Top Work Injury Firm Can Ruin You

A caller to my office had a shameful Illinois workers’ compensation story.

She works in the Quad Cities and was injured there, but hired a (in my strong opinion) shady Chicago work comp firm that does a lot of TV advertising to represent her.  These are lawyers that seem to try and sign up as many cases as possible but don’t care what happens on the case.

In her claim she had a fall and someone from the company lied and claimed she said that she told them she wasn’t hurt at work.  As a result her benefits were suddenly cut off.  It put her in a real financial crunch.

What her lawyers should have done is filed a trial motion. What they did do is tell her to settle the case since it’s disputed.  They said this despite her having a real serious injury, needing more treatment and the value of the case if they saw it through likely being 20 times what they got for her.

She didn’t know any better and thought this is what work comp is.  The truth is that they had a young lawyer on the case who doesn’t know what they are doing and doesn’t want to travel three hours to a hearing in Rock Island.

So the client settled and now wants to know how to get medical treatment.  The sad truth is that there’s nothing we or anyone can do for her now.

There is no such thing as the “top” or “best” work injury firm in Illinois.  You need to hire whoever is best for your case.  But there is a clear difference between good firms and those that don’t care about their clients and put their clients at risk.

This is a sad example of what can happen when you don’t have a good firm. It’s not the injured worker’s fault.  They listened to their attorney.

To make matters worse, she still hasn’t been paid even though I could see that settlement contracts had been approved by the Arbitrator. When she asked her lawyer why she didn’t have her money yet they lied and said that the defense attorney hadn’t returned them yet.

I will never get how a law firm can operate this way.  You have to have something majorly wrong with you to blatantly lie to people over and over.  I think part of it is these types of firms are run by terrible people and the young attorneys they train either don’t know any better or are desperate to have a job.  It’s probably a little bit of both as these young lawyers usually don’t last more than a year which just makes matters worse for the clients of the firm.

Your Doctor Shouldn’t Tell You What Lawyer To Hire

A nice, somewhat naive, Illinois woman called me recently.  She had hurt her back at her job and had quite the serious injury.  What she told me was that she had a lawyer and he never called her back and was rude when he did so she wanted a new firm.  That’s a good reason to switch lawyers for sure.

I referred her to an attorney who handles cases in the county where her case is being heard.  He then contacted me to let me know something she didn’t share.

When she was first injured, she actually hired the lawyer that I recommended. They filed the case and everything was going great.  He then got a call out of the blue telling him that she was switching law firms.

It turns out that the doctor who ran the MRI clinic where her back exam took place decided to talk to her.  Now I don’t know if you’ve ever had a MRI, but in most cases you will never actually speak with a doctor.  That’s because they don’t actually perform the tests.  They just read the results and collect the big bucks.

In this case though, when the doctor was alerted that this woman was hurt on the job, he became very interested in her case.  He was so interested that he told her that his friend is the best work comp attorney around and that she should go hire him.

Even though her case was going fine, she agreed to switch firms.  She hired the attorney who now doesn’t call her back and was rude to her.  The attorney I know of course has no desire to right the ship.

As you can probably guess, it’s a slam dunk guarantee that the MRI owner and the crappy attorney have a quid pro quo going on.  They expect each other to send business their way.  And if this means interfering with a client who likes their lawyer they don’t care.  They aren’t looking out for their patients/clients.  They are looking out for themselves.

Maybe this nice woman will find a lawyer willing to be the third attorney on her case.  That’s not easy to do because the three law firms would have to split the 20% attorney fee.  At some point it becomes not worth it.  I don’t think she was doing anything wrong, but not questioning why a random doctor was talking about her work injury has really caused her some problems. Hopefully it all works out in the end.

Can They Accept My IL Work Comp Case And Then Deny It?

A caller to my office had an unusual, but not unheard of situation.

He injured his back at work in Chicago and reported the accident right away.  The accident was on a Tuesday.  He, as required by law, took a drug test and failed.  He admits he had been partying the previous Saturday.

Normally these cases get denied right away, but in this case they paid his medical bills, including a surgery and all his time off work.  He did get fired from the job though for the failed test.

Fast forward nine months later and he gets a letter in the mail from the insurance company that says they’ve reviewed his claim and now are denying his case.  To them they consider the case closed.

His question to me was can they do that?

The answer is that payment of benefits is not an admission of liability.  In other words, just because they paid my mistake doesn’t  mean that they have to pay you forever. In this case, the failed drug test gives them a right to deny benefits.  What will happen is that he will hire a lawyer, go to trial and testify (honestly) that he got high on Saturday, was sober by Sunday and completely fine when he was injured 72 hours after he used drugs.

Unless the insurance company has some evidence that he really was high when he got hurt, which they surely don’t, he will win.

The more common example is when someone gets hurt on the job, starts receiving benefits and then is sent to an IME doctor who says the injuries aren’t work related.  That gives them the right to stop paying your bills and lost time.  It doesn’t mean you lose the case, it just means you likely have to go to arbitration.

What I think happened in this case is that it was assigned to an adjuster who applied common sense.  The way this worker was hurt was by being run in to by a co-worker.  Even if he was high, he was literally just standing when someone knocked him over.  So drugs or not it had nothing to do with the accident.  The way insurance companies work though is that once they spend a certain amount of money on a case, a higher level person usually takes over or at least looks at it.  They probably saw the failed drug test and decided to act.

It’s a short term inconvenience that is easily solvable with the right lawyer.  The good news in this case is that he’s almost done with his treatment so he won’t really suffer.

These things happen.  Employers and insurance companies do have rights and they will certainly use them to their benefit when they can.  That’s alright because workers have rights too and when the facts are on their side they win in the end.

 

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