I recently won a workers’ compensation trial. Of course the fact is it never should have had to go to trial in the first place.
The petitioner (what the plaintiff is called in workers’ compensation cases) had an injury that occurred while he was performing his job (“arising out of” and “in the course of” his employment as an inspector for a municipality).
He pulled on a gate that was broken and his biceps tendon tore. He needed surgery to repair it.
Did his employer dispute that he was hurt doing his job? No.
Did his employer deny that he was injured? No.
Did his employer have some great surveillance video of him changing tires when he claimed to be injured? No.
Was he alleged to be a malingerer who was “milking” this injury, so he got paid to sit at home? No. He was back at work already, as the original injury had occurred almost three years ago!
Because the attorney for the municipality told me emphatically that she would “never pay a dime on this case.” “Take your case to trial, counsel.”
Leaving aside the impoliteness of her statement, that made the decision on what to do next rather easy.
We agreed to allow medical evidence in via medical records rather than requiring evidence depositions of my client’s treating doctors. This at least made it a somewhat streamlined process. Yet it was still a very slow process.
As a workers' compensation attorney, first, you have to notice up the case for trial on the arbitrator’s trial call. Then, at the trial call date, you or your clerk yells out possible dates on that arbitrator’s call cycle next month that work for you and your client. Hopefully, you and your opponent agree on a date.
Next, you show up on that date. Unlike circuit court, where a trial date means you are going to trial that day, workers’ comp works differently. The parties meet to complete their “stip sheets,” which indicate what issues the parties agree about and which ones they do not. The arbitrator will prioritize trials based upon when your stipulations are turned in. So you could show up at 8:45, not find your opponent until 10:30 and turn in your stip sheets at 11, only to find out there are 5 trials ahead of you that day and you will never go forward that day.
In this case, we were number 3 due to a bit of a dispute on some of the issues. We were told we’d be proceeding “after lunch,” which only means “sometime today.”
Not wanting to miss our opening, I tried to handle some emails and phone calls while waiting, but wanted to stay available just in case a trial in front of ours settled or did not proceed for some other reason. Once it became apparent the second trial was spilling into the noon hour, I sent my client off for lunch and I did the same. We returned about 1:30. The trial ahead of us was still going on with at least 2 more witnesses to go, both of whom required translators. Sometimes hell looks a lot like the 8th floor of the Thompson Center. It was going to be a very long day.
Finally, at about 3pm, we went ahead. We were done by 3:30. My client testified. I asked him questions about his job description, what he was doing that day, how he tugged on the broken gate, and how he felt his arm tear. He discussed the surgery, rehab, and recovery, and how he feels today compared to before the injury. He was cross examined. About all the other attorney got him to admit was that his arm had recovered pretty well and he had returned to his job full duty without restrictions. In Illinois workers’ compensation law, there is no compensation for how an injury affects your ability to live a normal life, pick up your toddler, or toss a bowling ball; it’s myopically focused on whether you can perform your job. Evidence was submitted to the arbitrator. And we were given a deadline by which we had to submit our proposed arbitrator findings.
In nearly every other court proceeding, you go to trial and the jury decides and they fill out the jury verdict form and sign it and you’re done. Not so with an Illinois workers’ compensation trial. The lawyers each submit his or her party’s proposed findings. We state the facts that were presented, address the law, and then literally tell the arbitrator what our client should receive. The arbitrators read both sides’ proposed findings, pick the one that they think most closely represents their analysis, change a few numbers around, and issue their decision within about 60 days. Some arbitrators are quicker than others, but it still boggles the mind that arbitrators literally type out their own opinions.
Many insist the workers’ compensation system is designed intentionally for inefficiency (to dissuade parties from filing claims). Regardless of whether there is any truth to this assertion, the system is still inapposite to nearly every other injury-type law in how it is handled. Indeed, on the other hand, many claim that workers' compensation arbitrators actually are more efficient because they are able to cut and paste from the lawyers’ proposed findings. This may be true. It does not make it any less odd.
I will give you the good news first. My client won. He was awarded money. A fair award, less than I asked, but more than the municipality wanted him to have.
So when does he get his money?
As of press time, we had confirmed with the other attorney that they were not going to file a petition to review the trial court finding, and they had let that deadline pass. She had recommended to her superiors that payment be issued.
Right about that time, there was a bit more chaos within the City of Chicago Workers’ Compensation System. Alderman Edward Burke, who has presided over the system for years with virtually no oversight, had been indicted for bribery and removed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel as the head administrator of the City’s Workers’ Compensation system.
There were calls for an immediate audit of the system. Thus, even though payment is expected soon, it is also just as likely that this will delay everything at least another few months. The opposing attorney had no inside knowledge about what would happen.
The long wait continues.
If you are injured while working, get medical treatment and report the injury to your employer. It is also almost always a good idea to take advantage of a free consultation with a workers' compensation attorney about your rights. You may be entitled to workers' comp benefits even if you are paid as an independent contractor or are injured away from your employer's premises.
If you 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.
Stephen handles personal injury and workers' compensation claims on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything upfront and he only gets paid if you do. Don’t wait another day, contact Stephen now.