Asbestos and workers’ compensation in Illinois

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Many workers in Illinois are exposed to asbestos on the job. Exposure to this dangerous substance can cause a number of life-threatening medical conditions. There is currently no safe level of exposure, and even brief contact may increase the chance of occupational illness.

Lingering risks from asbestos

Asbestos is much more tightly regulated than it was during the 20th century. It is no longer used as insulation in new buildings, pipes and vehicles, but it is still present in a wide range of work environments and may not be entirely avoidable during repairs on older sites. According to a long-term projection study on asbestos and workers carried out by Harvard University, U.S. workers will still contract approximately 500 cases per year of asbestos-related mesothelioma (an aggressive form of lung cancer) in 2055, more than half a century after the material was phased out in new constructions. These lingering risks are projected to cause considerable suffering and loss of life.

Health problems caused by asbestos

Mesothelioma and other types of lung cancer are not the only serious health risks posed by asbestos. Exposure to asbestos fibers can also cause any or all of the following medical conditions:

  • Asbestosis (buildup of scar tissue in the lungs)
  • Irritation of the pleural lining
  • Impaired blood flow to the heart
  • Malfunctions of the intestines, stomach or peritoneum

These conditions can be career-ending and permanently disabling.

Workers at risk have the right to compensation

If workers are exposed to asbestos on the job, they have the right to full compensation for any health conditions they develop as a result. The exposure does not need to be long-term. A few days spent working in an old building full of asbestos may provide ample grounds for a workers’ compensation case if the employee becomes ill.

Documentation is important for a strong case

Many workers’ compensation claims are filed after catastrophic accidents in the workplace. Cases of asbestos exposure are more complicated. Because it may take years for the effects of asbestos to become apparent in a worker’s body, it is important to document every symptom and every incident of exposure. Employees have the right to know when they are working in an environment that may expose them to asbestos. They also have the right to sufficient protective equipment. If employers are negligent, workers should document the unsafe conditions and seek counsel from a legal professional.

Asbestos exposure on the job is a persistent danger in many careers. To find out more about your rights and your options, contact a personal injury lawyer today.

Choosing the right doctor to treat a work injury

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one in 33 American workers reported a substantial work injury or illness in 2012. Injured employees in Illinois have choices about the doctors and hospitals they visit. By discovering more about their rights and options, employees can secure the medical treatment they need for a full recovery.

Can injured workers choose their doctors?

Injured workers can pick their own medical providers in most cases. State law and employer choice may set some limitations on the number of specialists seen or the particular doctors available for consultation. It is important to learn about these limitations to avoid the risk of facing medical bills which may not be covered by workers’ compensation benefits.

Preferred Provider Programs

Illinois employers have the option of establishing a Preferred Provider Program with a pre-selected choice of doctors. If an employer has set up a PPP, injured workers may choose two physicians from the network. Employers who establish a PPP must notify their employees in writing with an official form provided by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Does the PPP network apply to all medical care?

Even if the employer has a PPP network in place, it does not apply to medical care in the following situations:

  • Emergency care in the immediate aftermath of an accident or injury
  • Medical treatment received before reporting the injury to the employer
  • Treatment received after the worker has chosen to opt out of the employer’s PPP network

If a head injury occurs in a slip-and-fall accident, for example, the employee is not only permitted but encouraged to seek treatment from the closest available doctor. PPP networks are designed to cover long-term care after an injury on the job.

How are employers allowed to opt out of the PPP network, and what are the consequences?

Employees may opt out of participation in a PPP network by notifying the employer in writing. This statement counts under Illinois law as a choice of medical providers, leaving the employee with the choice of a single doctor outside the PPP network. If this doctor refers the injured worker to further specialists, their services are also covered by workers’ compensation. Employees must seek written approval from their employers if they wish to see a specialist outside this chain of providers.

Navigating the health care system after a work-related injury can be complicated and intimidating. Get in touch with a legal professional today for advice on your situation.

3 tips on how to prepare for a workers’ compensation appeal

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Most workers’ compensation cases are resolved quickly and smoothly, but sometimes the process becomes complicated. According to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, injured workers appealed almost 2,100 cases in the state during the year 2013 alone. Nearly half of these appeals resulted in an increased level of benefits. By following three basic tips, employees can prepare for an appeal and increase their chances of winning.

Tip #1: Know how the appeal process works

Before choosing to make a workers’ compensation appeal, employees should be aware of the appeal process and the range of possible outcomes. Illinois law provides for the following options in appeal cases:

  • A worker denied compensation has recourse to arbitration.
  • If arbitration is unsuccessful, the worker may appeal formally to the IWCC for reconsideration for the case.
  • After reviewing the case, the IWCC decides whether to approve or deny the appeal.
  • If the IWCC approves the appeal, a three-member review panel decides how much compensation to offer the injured worker.
  • If the IWCC denies the appeal, the worker may pursue the case in the Illinois Supreme Court.

This multi-stage process may last for a year or more. Arbitrators, reviewers or other IWCC officials may ask for additional testimony and evidence at any point.

Tip #2: Speak discreetly and seek legal counsel

After a workplace injury or illness, it is normal to seek advice and support from family, friends and co-workers. This practice can be dangerous for injured employees who plan to appeal a workers’ compensation case. Everything that employees say, even in an informal context, can be used as evidence against them. Before speaking about medical issues, workers should seek legal counsel. This advice is especially crucial if there are pre-existing medical conditions.

Tip #3: Beware of social media

Social media can be a lifeline for injured workers during the pain and discomfort of recovery. Unfortunately, it can also be a liability during the appeal process. Employers and their attorneys may use social media postings, videos, messages and other evidence to argue that a worker is not genuinely disabled. Always think before posting, and consider taking a break from social media while the case is under consideration.

Appealing a workers’ compensation case can be challenging. These three tips—know the process, speak discreetly and use social media wisely—can alleviate some of the difficulties. Call a personal injury attorney today for a free consultation about your case.

Turbulence and airline attendants: Yes, you can claim compensation

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Air travel in America is safer than ever before, with an extremely low incidence of mechanical failures and crashes. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 1.7 million domestic passengers per day flew in 2013 without a single fatality. Unfortunately, there is one aspect of flying that remains hazardous: the danger of injuries from turbulence. This danger is especially acute for flight attendants because of their job duties in the air. Illinois flight attendants can safeguard their rights by learning more about work-related injuries and the benefits available to help with recovery.

Why do flight attendants face an increased risk of turbulence injuries?

When passengers are seated with their seat belts properly fastened, they face almost no risk of physical harm from turbulence. Although extreme turbulence can be hard on the nerves, modern commercial airplanes are designed to withstand it without incident. Passengers will stay safe if they are securely belted in at all times. Flight attendants do not have this option. Their duties include many hours of food service, beverage service, cleanup, safety checks and attending to the needs of passengers. Most airline attendants will spend a considerable percentage of any given flight out of their seats. When heavy turbulence strikes, as it often does without warning, they are more likely to incur severe injury.

What do turbulence injuries look like?

Some flight attendants are permanently unable to return to work after traumatic injuries caused by turbulence. A study of two major U.S. air carriers made by the Association of Flight Attendants showed that 143 flight attendants faced disabling injuries during the year 2009 alone. Severe turbulence can turn heavy objects into dangerous projectiles. While flight attendants are standing in the aisle, they are in danger of multiple injuries from service carts, including all of the following:

  • Broken bones
  • Lacerations
  • Severe bruising
  • Head or neck injuries

If a plane drops suddenly because of clear air turbulence, an unsecured person can also hit the ceiling and suffer a concussion.

Injured flight attendants can claim workers’ compensation

When flight attendants are injured in the line of duty, they can claim workers’ compensation for lost wages and expenses connected to their recovery. They have the right to disability payments, coverage of medical treatment, vocational rehabilitation and benefits paid to survivors in the event of a fatal injury. According to Illinois workers’ compensation law, these benefits must be paid promptly and consistently as long as the work-related disability lasts. Are you living with the aftermath of a turbulence injury? Contact an attorney today to learn more about your options.

Illinois lawmakers seek to limit workers’ comp claims for travel-related injuries

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Not all job-related injuries occur in the workplace. Many employees are required to travel hundreds of miles by road, train, boat or air in the course of their employment. Severe injuries or illnesses can occur while workers are in transit. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 160,000 workers were injured during job-related travel during 2010. A new Illinois bill, SB 2624, would limit workers’ compensation claims made by employees injured on the road. This important piece of legislation has the potential to affect thousands of claims in Illinois every year.

What are the changes proposed by SB 2624?

SB 2624 is a composite bill that contains a number of workers’ compensation reforms and updates. If the bill is passed, it will cause three major changes to Illinois law:

  • The weekly wage of injured workers will be determined by a new and more rigorous formula.
  • Shoulder injuries will be considered as arm injuries for compensation purposes, and hip injuries will be considered as leg injuries.
  • Benefits for travel-related injuries will be severely curtailed.

All of these changes could have a considerable impact on the financial situation of injured workers in Illinois.

How would SB 2624 limit claims for travel-related injuries?

According to the provisions set out by SB 2624, employees who are required to travel as part of their jobs are only eligible for benefits if an injury occurs during active engagement in job activities. The injury must also arise directly out of employment. The bill sets a new standard for compensable injuries: they must be more than 50 percent job-related and not connected to any hazards or risks outside the sphere of employment.

What does this mean in practical terms?

Under current Illinois law, many injured employees have successfully filed for benefits after an accident during work-related travel. A 32-year-old Chicago plumber received almost a year of temporary partial disability in 2012 after slipping and falling on a restaurant floor while getting breakfast on the way home after an exhausting 11-hour overnight shift. If SB 2624 passes, such cases may be ineligible for benefits.

Controversies surrounding SB 2624

These proposed cuts to service have attracted a considerable amount of controversy. Advocates of the bill argue that it would reform a bloated and overly generous workers’ compensation system, offering better protection to employees who are genuinely disabled in the line of duty. Opponents argue that it would deprive workers of necessary protection against the hazards of commuting and other work-related activities.

Are you facing the aftermath of a work-related injury in Illinois? Get in touch with a workers’ compensation attorney today to find out more about your options and your rights.

How does the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Insurance Fund Act work?

Air conditioner workerInjured workers in Illinois are entitled to compensation during their recovery. According to state law, every employer must carry appropriate and sufficient insurance to provide workers’ compensation benefits in the case of a work-related injury or illness. Although Illinois law imposes severe fines on uninsured employers and allocates the resulting funds to a pool for injured workers, some lawmakers have argued that the existing system of private insurance is not enough to support the increasing number of disabled employees and insufficiently insured employers. The bill known as HB 2919, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Insurance Fund Act, is designed to strengthen the existing liability system by establishing a competitive state fund for workers’ compensation insurance.

Differences in workers’ compensation law

Workers’ compensation law varies widely from state to state. The U.S. federal government operates an independent benefit program for its own employees. Private employees in each state are subject to local regulations. Twelve states currently operate state workers’ compensation funds of different kinds, often as assigned-risk programs for dangerous professions and environments such as the following:

  • Firefighting
  • Emergency medical response
  • Logging
  • Agriculture
  • Correctional institutions

HB 2919 proposes an Illinois state fund for workers’ compensation benefits based on the precedents set by other states.

New options for insurance coverage

Advocates of HB 2919 argue that the bill will give employers and employees more options for insurance coverage. When employers need to insure workers who engage in dangerous professions, they can turn to the Illinois Department of Insurance for a fair policy at a reasonable price. Private insurers are sometimes unable to absorb risks which a more centralized program could handle without difficulty.

How would the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Insurance Fund operate?

If HB 2919 is passed, a workers’ compensation insurance fund will be established and administered by the Illinois Department of Insurance. As in other states (such as California) with a similar arrangement, the fund will consist of all premiums paid and all penalties levied for non-payment, as well as any returns on investments and deposits made by administrators. The Illinois Director of Insurance will appoint a five-member board of directors to manage the fund and ensure its ongoing efficiency.

New possibilities created by HB 2919

As the insurance market becomes more competitive and costly, some Illinois insurers and legislators are offering a new option for employers and workers who face the ongoing risk of a workplace accident. Find out more about the proposed legislation by meeting with an attorney today.

What rights do I have if I have been injured at work?

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When employees suffer work-related injuries or diseases, they have the right to full compensation from their employers. This compensation includes reimbursement for lost wages, coverage of medical treatment, and payment for vocational retraining if necessary. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, first passed in 1912, is designed to help workers recover and provide for their families in the aftermath of a disabling injury or illness. This quick guide will help you discover how you can benefit from the workers’ compensation system in Illinois and safeguard your rights when hurt on the job.

Protect your rights by reporting the injury

After an injury on the job, the first reaction is often shock, disbelief or panic. It may be tempting to conceal the injury from employers to avoid retaliation or other unpleasant consequences. It is important to resist this temptation and give full details of the accident as soon as possible. According to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, an injured worker must notify his or her employer no more than 45 days after the incident. Longer delays may result in deferred benefits or difficulties with reimbursement. Employers are legally forbidden from retaliating against injured employees or withholding legitimate medical benefits.

What to do if you are injured on the job

This quick checklist may be helpful to follow after a worker injury:

  • Seek appropriate medical treatment.
  • Notify the employer as quickly as possible.
  • Maintain full and accurate records of all symptoms, disabilities and medical procedures.
  • Be sure that the employer has initiated contact with the IWCC.

By taking these four steps, injured employees can help ensure full workers’ compensation coverage.

What to do if benefits are not paid

If an employer does not immediately offer workers’ compensation, contact the employer directly to find out why the process has not been set in motion. Workers have the right to a hearing with the IWCC when benefits are delayed. If the employer is uninsured or underinsured, workers may be able to receive benefits from the Illinois Injured Workers’ Benefit Fund.

Know your responsibilities and rights

On-the-job injuries are far too common in America. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 900,000 workers were temporarily disabled by a back injury at work during the year 2013 alone. By finding out more about your responsibilities and rights as a worker, you can ensure full support and compensation in the event of a workplace injury. Get in touch with a legal professional today for additional advice.

Restaurants can be risky places to work

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Restaurant work can be a dangerous business. Records kept by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that more than 26,000 restaurant employees missed at least one full day of work in 2012 because of a workplace accident or illness. Cooks, servers, dishwashers and other food service employees face a busy environment filled with physical hazards. They should be aware of the dangers inherent in their profession and follow best practices for avoiding injury.

Accidents in the kitchen can hurt or kill employees

Accidents in an industrial kitchen can be life-threatening. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, restaurant employees face an elevated danger of serious injury or death, with 112 food service workers—nearly one every three days—killed on the job in 2013. All of the following risks contribute to the possibility of major accidents:

  • Incorrect handling of deep-fryers, large stockpots and other containers of hot liquid
  • Slip-and-fall hazards caused by poor workplace hygiene and improperly maintained floors
  • Improper stacking of heavy boxes
  • Insufficient training for new employees

Any one of these risk factors can lead to a serious or fatal accident in a restaurant kitchen.

Food service workers are at high risk of repetitive stress

Not all restaurant injuries are sudden and dramatic. Many injured workers are forced to take time off and undergo medical treatment because of repetitive stress trauma. Working in a restaurant often involves intense repetitive motion for long periods of time. Servers carry heavy plates to and from the kitchen all day long. Prep cooks may stand at a work station and chop, slice or stir for shifts lasting 12 hours or more. Nearly all restaurant employees find themselves moving bulky equipment or large boxes. This kind of work can lead to repetitive stress, creating new injuries and making existing disorders worse.

Best practices can help restaurant workers stay safer on the job

Although a restaurant is a fast-paced and hazardous environment, workers can take steps to remain safer on the job. OSHA guidelines for safe restaurants include careful training of new employees, ergonomic lifting techniques, strict standards of cleaning and hygiene, and a no-tolerance policy toward drug abuse in the workplace. By following these guidelines, restaurant employees have begun chipping away at the rate of on-the-job fatalities. OSHA reports that the number of restaurant deaths and injuries is slowly but steadily decreasing in recent years.

Restaurant employees are skilled, hard-working professionals who deserve full legal protection as they do their best to work safely. To discover more about how Illinois labor law affects cooks and servers, talk with a workers’ compensation attorney today.

Seeking workers’ compensation after a worker has died

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The state of Illinois guarantees workers’ compensation for all employees who suffer a disabling injury at work. If a worker dies as the result of a job-related accident, the worker’s beneficiaries may be paid survivors’ benefits in accordance with Illinois law. This quick guide can help bereaved family members understand the benefits to which they are entitled after a wrongful death on the job.

Who is entitled to collect the Illinois survivors’ benefit?

The Illinois survivors’ benefit is awarded to the following beneficiaries, in order of preference:

  • The primary beneficiaries of a deceased worker in the state of Illinois are defined as the surviving spouse and any living children under 18. They have the highest priority for benefits.
  •  If there are no primary beneficiaries, workers’ compensation payments may be made to dependent parents of the deceased employee.
  • If the deceased employee has no dependent parents, the Illinois survivors’ benefit may be offered to other family members who were at least 50 percent dependent on the employee.

All posthumous workers’ compensation benefits in Illinois may be subject to arbitration if the case is controversial or disputed.

How is the Illinois survivors’ benefit calculated? 

According to the regulations of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, the survivors’ benefit begins with a payment of $8,000 for burial costs. (This marks an increase from the previous burial benefit of $4,200 for deaths that occurred prior to February 1, 2006.) The permanent weekly benefit is then calculated as two-thirds of the worker’s average weekly wage during the year preceding the fatal work accident.

Can benefits paid to survivors ever change?

Benefits may be increased annually to reflect changes in the cost of living. The Illinois Rate Adjustment Fund is designed to cover the added cost of living for bereaved family members and dependents as time passes. If a surviving spouse remarries without eligible children, the IWCC will award a final lump sum of two years’ compensation, after which benefits will stop. If eligible children are present, benefits will continue until the last child turns 18. When the newly married couple no longer has eligible children, benefits will cease.

Survivors’ benefits are an important part of the American safety net

Although no one enjoys thinking about possible death or bereavement, it is important to know how survivors’ benefits work. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 4,405 workers died from on-the-job injuries in 2013. By learning more about this important safety net, family members can enjoy increased financial security by knowing how and when to seek posthumous workers’ compensation. Call a workers’ compensation attorney today to find out more.

Can fibromyalgia qualify for workers’ compensation in Illinois?

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Fibromyalgia is a painful and often debilitating illness that affects a small but significant percentage of the Illinois population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 5 million adults in America suffer from fibromyalgia. Employees with the disease typically miss an average of 17 days of work every year, adding up to nearly three times as many sick days as the non-affected population. Some people claim workers’ compensation for disabling episodes of this illness, especially when the episodes begin after a work-related injury. Such cases are often controversial. By learning more about the disease and its status in Illinois workers’ compensation law, employees can safeguard their rights to full coverage for occupational illness.

What is fibromyalgia?

The primary symptoms of fibromyalgia are persistent body pain and severe fatigue, along with some or all of the following secondary symptoms:

  • Tingling or numbness
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Memory loss and cognitive disturbances
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Intense headaches

These symptoms can make it difficult or impossible to maintain a regular work schedule.

Does fibromyalgia qualify as a work-related illness?

The causes of fibromyalgia are still not fully understood. The body responds to stress with an automatic inflammatory response, creating the range of symptoms described above. Some workers have found that their fibromyalgia symptoms began or worsened after a traumatic injury in the workplace. The link between trauma and fibromyalgia is still under medical exploration, but thousands of injured workers have successfully proven that their fibromyalgia is in fact a work-related illness. When a disabling condition can be directly traced back to an event at work, the employee has the right to full compensation, even if the medical causes are not entirely understood.

Making a strong workers’ compensation claim for fibromyalgia

Illinois workers who plan to make a claim for fibromyalgia should be especially diligent about presenting their case. Employees must seek expert medical advice to rule out pre-existing conditions such as lupus or multiple sclerosis. They must prove clearly that the illness has arisen from workplace activity or a workplace accident. All medical records should be preserved. The claimant should expect skepticism from the Workers’ Compensation Commission and be prepared to defend the case as strongly as possible.

With careful documentation, hard work, and the willingness to appeal if necessary, some employees in Illinois who suffer from fibromyalgia can qualify for workers’ compensation. Contact a personal injury attorney today to find out more about your options.