Wheels of Justice—Are they Round?

Justice scales

One cliche about the law that many are familiar with is the wheels of justice and how they move slowly. The cliché is certainly not as poetic as Dr. Martin Luther King’s observation that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. However, the slow wheels of justice is an apt description of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation system.

Four years and eleven months ago (in keeping with our historical theme, not nearly as good as Lincoln’s “Four Score and Seven Years Ago”), my client was injured at work. The case is only just now resolved.

Why did it take five years to get my client the money he needed? The answer is complicated, but in short, there’s a lot that goes into settling a workers’ compensation case.

Contact Dermatitis…Maybe

My client, C, worked at Stroger Hospital in a non-medical capacity. He noticed itching and swelling in his hands, and a doctor there originally determined it was a contact allergy or reaction to some of the chemicals he used as a custodian. But despite using the creams and medications, wearing gloves, and avoiding the chemicals, his condition continued to deteriorate

Ultimately, the wounds became infected and breached the bone, causing him to lose several fingers. The amputations took place in Memphis, where C had moved after being unable to return to his job at Stroger.

Getting to Maybe

Once I could determine that my client was as healed as could be, I subpoenaed medical records from his treatments both in Chicago and Memphis. The Chicago records were vague on a distinct diagnosis but seemed to indicate a contact dermatitis. The Memphis records consisted of nearly 2,500 pages. Despite the volume, the Memphis records came to absolutely no conclusions as to the cause of his original illness nor the reason that he required two fingers to be amputated.

Reviewing the records myself, the things that jumped out at me were that my client was obese, diabetic, and that these “comorbidities” could and definitely would be used by my opponent to push back on the work-relatedness of his original injury, to say nothing of the amputations. In other words, the case was tough. There was no smoking gun in the records, and there was plenty of room for doubt.

A Demand To Settle

I scanned all the medical records and forwarded them to the lawyer for C’s employer along with a demand for settlement.

For nearly two years, the other lawyer sat on it. I’m sure you are wondering how that is possible, and why I didn’t simply demand a trial?

I had a case I probably couldn’t prove and a client living in another state. I was pursuing the County, perennially understaffed. I also had also sent 2,500 pages of medical records. I had to give my opponent a reasonable opportunity to review.

Then, things got even worse. The first Covid-19 shut down occurred. While many of us adapted to working from home, County employees are simply not set up to do that. He would have to sneak into the office and snatch portions of the medical records to read at home. It took quite some time. We agreed to continue the case until he was able to review everything.

Finally, he extended an offer on the case.

Compromise…But There’s More

After a bit of back and forth, we arrived at a settlement that pleased my client. It was a reasonable and fair settlement of all claims, recognizing the injury and the damage it wrought while also factoring in the difficulties of the case.

C was overjoyed, even penning a heartfelt rave review of my work before he even received his money! That sounds like the happy ending, but as they say in infomercials, “But wait, there’s more.”

Now came the fun part. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission recently joined the 21st century, requiring all settlement contracts to be completed on an online portal. While the portal is intuitive, it is also clunky and time-consuming in comparison to the way I’ve done contracts the last 31 years. After a few edits and changes in cooperation with my opposing counsel, we got a final draft signed by all and approved by the arbitrator in early October. At the time of this writing, the settlement is scheduled to appear on the Cook County Board’s November meeting so that it can be accepted. At that time, a check will finally cut.

From the time of his original injury in January of 2016 until he receives his final settlement, nearly five years will have passed.

The wheels of justice sometimes move so slowly one wonders whether they are round. But I do everything I can to move them in a forward direction.

Contact Chicago Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Stephen Hoffman

If you’re injured at work and have questions, contact Chicago workers’ compensation attorney Stephen L. Hoffman for a free consultation at (773) 944-9737. Stephen has nearly 30 years of legal experience and has collected millions of dollars for his clients. He is listed as a SuperLawyer, has a 10.0 rating on Avvo, and is BBB A+ accredited. He is also an Executive Level Member of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.

Don’t wait another day, contact Stephen now.