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COVID19 Illinois Workers Compensation – The (Very) Basics

In Illinois, workers’ compensation is a no-fault system of benefits that are paid by employers to workers who experience work-related injuries or diseases.  While employers are required by law (in almost all instances) to provide workers’ compensation insurance benefits for their employees, employers are under no obligation to advise a worker that he/she may be entitled to certain workers’ compensation insurance benefits.  Similarly, if a worker were to die from a work-acquired exposure to COVID-19, the employer has no legal responsibility to tell the employee’s family members of their potential rights to benefits.  Because of this, there are workers’ who may be entitled to benefits who are unaware of their rights, and family members of workers who have not survived a work-acquired coronavirus infection, unaware that there of the fact that they may be entitled to potentially significant financial support into the future, through a workers’ compensation insurance policy that an employer had in place for employees.

When a worker suffers injury, illness or death that is deemed to trigger a right to benefits under the Illinois Workers Compensation Act, the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance is required to pay certain benefits.  The benefits will vary depending on the nature of the harm and extent of injury suffered.  In many cases, workers are entitled to certain payments for time off of work recovering from injuries or illness, payment of medical bills for reasonable and necessary treatment to cure the illness or injury, and payment of a lump sum for any permanent partial disability that a worker suffers as a result of the illness or injury.  Because the science is not yet certain as to extent of permanent damage that COVID-19 causes, we anticipate that workers’ compensation insurers and defense firms may fight to limit the amount that is paid to workers who survive coronavirus.  And, because harms caused by Covid-19 have not gone through trial at the Workers’ Compensation Commission yet, the amount of the lump sum a worker would be entitled to is, in many ways, uncharted territory. This uncertainly leads to the possibility that workers who resolve claims via settlement sooner or later could have proportionally different lump sums awarded versus workers whose cases resolve after there is more clarity about how the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Arbitrators (Judges) are deciding the value of the lump sum in COVID-19 cases that go to trial.

If a worker is permanently disabled from an illness or injury, or dies as a result of a compensable injury of illness, there are additional forms of compensation for the workers’ family, in many cases.   In workers’ compensation cases involving an employee who has passed away from a work acquired injury or infection, the surviving family is entitled to receive $8,000 in burial benefits, as well as continuing payments of 2/3 (66.66%) of the employee’s gross average weekly earnings (determined based on the past 52 weeks of work, and subject to maximum and minimum limits as set by law).  Generally, spouses are entitled to continue to receive this benefit until a point where they remarry, and children are entitled to receive a portion of benefits until they are 18, irrespective of a subsequent remarriage.

More specific details about the benefits available to workers can be found in the Workers’ Compensation Act and are addressed in a helpful, more reader-friendly Handbook that the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (IWCC) publishes, free online.  The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission has a website that has reliable information for workers, about the process and workers’ rights.  We are also happy to have our attorneys answer your specific questions, if you call to speak with us.

The Workers’ Compensation Act ensures that workers who suffer from accidents and illnesses that arise “out of and in the course of employment” are eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits.  This generally means that the Act covers injuries that result in whole or in part from the employee’s work; it is the employee’s burden to prove that an illness or injury was caused in “whole or part from work.”

Governor Pritzker Enacted Changes to Workers’ Compensation for “Essential Workers” – Employer Groups Fought to Successfully Unwind These Changes

As you know, citizens of Illinois have been under orders from Governor J.B. Pritzker to stay at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. These orders do not apply to certain people whose jobs are deemed essential.  To protect these “essential workers” in Illinois who have contracted Covid-19, Governor Pritzker and the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission ordered that as of April 13, 2020, COVID-19 first responders and front-line workers who say they contracted the illness because of their job, will automatically be presumed to be telling the truth so they can receive workers’ compensation benefits.  The text of the order is here.  The goal of this rule was to ease the access to workers’ compensation benefits for many of Chicago and Illinois’ workers, because in workers’ compensation claims, the employee has the burden to prove that an infection resulted from an exposure at work.  By creating presumption that essential workers who contracted COVID-19 were exposed at work, Governor Pritzker was attempting to ensure that insurance companies would not be as likely to force essential employees, or the families of these employees who have passed away, to have to prove that an infection resulted from work.  However, very quickly, this Order was put “on hold” by a Judge who entered a restraining order, preventing the rule from being applied until there is decision about whether the rule was enacted legally.  Our firm can assist you to answer whether or not this rule remains in effect and whether or not your job, or your loved one’s job is covered by this change if you contact us for a consultation.  The designations of jobs that are essential can also be found online here.

Even if an employee is not considered to be an essential worker, even if the above order remains “on hold” or is the rule is thrown out, and even if an individual suffers injury, harm, or death from Covid-19 after the “shelter in place” order expires, workers exposed to Covid-19 at work could potentially be entitled compensation benefits.  The employee or the employee’s family, however, may have the burden of proving that the employee’s job put the employee at increased risk of contracting Coronavirus and to prove that the virus was most likely acquired from work.  If there is any question about whether a specific case is likely to be compensable under the workers’ compensation laws, it is likely worth reaching out to a competent workers’ compensation attorney to discuss the facts and details.  Most firms, like ours, will not ask for any attorneys’ fees for their time spent consulting about the possibility of representation.

Contact McCallister Law Group today to learn if you qualify for COVID19 Illinois Workers Compensation.

Whether to Hire an Attorney & Attorneys’ Fees

Whether to hire an attorney in a COVID-19 Illinois Workers Compensation case is a personal decision. Most attorneys will charge a contingency fee for representation, which amounts to a percentage of the lump sum that the lawyer negotiates for resolution of a case, or that is awarded at a workers’ compensation trial (if the case is not settled between the attorney for the employee and the attorneys for the employer’s workers’ compensation insurer). Attorneys may also charge fees on any benefits that they secure for a client that the insurer or employer disputes having an obligation to pay. Generally, attorneys’ fees are capped at 20% of the disputed amounts or lump sum. If an employee chooses to not hire an attorney, and if a claim is made seeking workers’ compensation benefits, then the employee would work to resolve the claim on his/her own behalf, by negotiating with the claims adjusters for the workers’ compensation insurers.

Some individuals choose to handle claims on their own, without legal assistance. If someone negotiates the resolution of a claim without legal assistance, often the worker’s compensation insurer will seek to have an agreement to a settlement where the employee agrees to waive any right to receive payment for any future medical treatment (even if it is necessary because of the work injury). Of course, this is not to say that any specific adjuster or workers’ compensation insurance company, or its attorneys, will necessarily have bad intentions; but, it is important to recognize that these adjusters are employed by the insurance company and they are not paid to be advocates for a worker who is injured or killed.

Because of the uncertainty of the long-term effects of Covid-19 on people’s health and the possibility that the damage that the virus causes to the lungs could have long-term consequences, we would recommend that anyone who may have a Covid-19 related workers’ compensation claim at least take the time to consult with a competent workers’ compensation attorney, be it at our firm, or elsewhere. An experienced attorney can provide invaluable advice about whether to settle a claim or not, when to settle a claim, can work to ensure that all reasonable and related medical bills are paid, will confirm that the benefits that are paid are paid at the correct rate, and in death cases, can work to attempt to ensure that all surviving family members are granted the benefits to which they are entitled, which may include payment of burial expenses and potential rights to ongoing payments for lost income of a deceased family member, in certain circumstances.

If you have any questions about a potential workers’ compensation Covid-19 related claim, please contact us to schedule a consultation. We are happy to meet with you, to speak over the phone, or to coordinate a video conference call with you to answer any questions that you may have. Our firm is prides ourselves on the fact that it is our attorneys who handle our workers’ compensation consultation and intake calls. We believe that every worker who is putting his or her life at risk in order to provide the necessary services that keep our city alive during these uncertain times deserves the personalized time, attention, and case-specific answers to their questions to make informed decisions about their rights without incurring any expense to get this critical information and answers.