Articles Posted in Workers Compensation

bld169963James Brooks was severely injured in a work accident in which he lost his left hand, wrist and forearm. Brooks was an assembly-line operator for Prairie Packaging Inc.  The on-the-job incident resulted in the filing of a worker’s compensation claim in 1999, the year of this accident. In addition, Brooks sought recovery for a permanent and total disability because of the loss of his limb. 

Prairie Packaging kept Brooks employed despite his inability to work, treating him as a disabled employee on company-approved leave of absence.  In the meantime, Brooks continued to receive healthcare coverage under the company’s employee-benefits plan.

Brooks’s medical costs were paid by the employer-placed health insurance and supplemented by payments through the worker’s compensation action. 

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Unknown-1The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that the mailbox rule applies when filing a notice of appeal. That means that if an appellant seeks an appeal to a higher court, the notice of appeal time is satisfied as long as the notice is mailed to the Clerk of the Circuit Court before the 30-day deadline expires. That is the case no matter when the notice of appeal is actually received and stamped as filed. The appellate court has also decided that the same principles of the mailbox rule apply to filing initial complaints or seeking post-judgment relief under §2-1401 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure.

The question for the Illinois Supreme Court was whether the mailbox rule applied to Mark Gruszeczka’s request for judicial review of a ruling by the Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Gruszeczka alleged that he was injured while working for Alliance Contractors. He claimed  he was entitled to benefits under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. An arbitrator ruled against him, and there was no dispute that the mailbox rule applied when he asked the commission to review that decision.

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mdf-6.jpgThe Illinois Appellate Court has affirmed a decision by a Cook County circuit court judge that allowed an injured worker to file a claim for a different injury to her right leg from the same conduct. The two workers’ compensation claims were consolidated prior to the arbitration in the Industrial Commission of Illinois. The petitioner/worker, Bessie Carnes, who was injured while in the scope of her employment, underwent surgery and physical therapy in April 1998 and was off work until May of that year.

Her employer, Modern Drop Forge, paid for her surgery and physical therapy through its group health plan covering nonoccupational disabilities.

In October 1999, Carnes first filed an application for adjustment of claim in the Illinois Industrial Commission alleging that the injury dating from September 1998, which she amended in August 2002, to have the current accident date of May 1996. At arbitration, Carnes’s employer moved to dismiss the claim as being untimely filed arguing that she had 3 years in which to file a claim from the date of injury.

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1317230_dollar_sign.jpgWhile a personal injury claim is subject to a jury’s decision, Illinois workers’ compensation claims are decided by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. Rather than undergoing a jury trial, workers’ compensation cases undergo an arbitration process in which both parties present their case to the arbitrator, who then determines an appropriate award. And because the Illinois workers’ compensation damages are clearly laid out in the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, there are generally few surprises when it comes to workers’ compensation cases.

However, disputes can arise when a company does not honor the terms set out in the arbitration agreement. The Illinois Appellate Court recently reviewed an Illinois workers’ compensation lawsuit involving a dispute over payment of attorney fees and costs. In Patel v. Home Depot USA, Inc., 2012 IL App. (1st) 103217, the plaintiff brought a claim against its employer after it stopped paying his workers’ compensation benefits. A Circuit Court judge had entered a decision in favor of the plaintiff and ordered the defendant company to pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees, costs, and interests.

On two separate occasions, the plaintiff Naresh Patel was injured while working at the Home Depot. As a result of these injuries, Home Depot was paying temporary total disability (TTD) to Patel. However, at least twice Home Depot suddenly stopped those payments to Patel without providing any written notice or warning. And while Patel was able to reinstate the TTD payments, doing so required him to hire an attorney and an arbitrator.

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13436_letter_bin.jpgAn Illinois District judge denied the U.S. government’s motion for summary judgment on the basis that the government had failed to establish that the plaintiff’s claim was not valid in James D. Fowler v. The United States of America, 08-CV-2785. The U.S. government had attempted to prove that the plaintiff was barred from receiving compensation from the post office because he had already received workers’ compensation directly from his employer. However, the district court disagreed with the U.S.’s classification of the plaintiff as a “borrowed employee,” thereby denying its motion for summary judgment.

The claims in Fowler arose out of an injury that James Fowler sustained at a while delivering mail to a Libertyville Post Office. Fowler was an employee of Eagle Express, a company which regularly contracted with the U.S. Postal Service to move mail between its various facilities. Under these “highway contract routes” (HCR) agreements, Eagle Express was responsible for covering all of the costs and duties associated with delivering mail on its required routes, including the payment and insuring of Eagle Express employees.

So even though Fowler was injured at the Libertyville Post Office while engaged in work for the U.S. Postal Service, his workers’ compensation claim was covered by Eagle Express. However, he sought to recovery additional damages from the U.S. Post Office based on the negligence of its employees in causing his injury based on the Federal Tort Claims Act. The FTCA allows parties to sue the U.S. for personal injury “caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission” of any federal government employee “while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1).

However, the U.S. argued that it was not liable for Fowler’s injuries because he was a borrowed employee. Because the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act is an exclusive remedy, an employee’s employer and any borrowing employer are immune from tort liability arising from an injury. Jorden v. U.S., Dist. Court, ND Illinois 2011. U.S. argued that just as Fowler was barred from pursuing a lawsuit against Eagle Express because he had already recovered workers’ compensation, so was Fowler barred from suing the U.S. Post Services based on his status as a borrowed employee.

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446352_coffee_ring.jpgAn Illinois employee who was involved in a car accident during the course of his employment sought to recoup payments from both his employer’s workers’ compensation policy and its car insurance policy. When the insurance company denied his claims, the employee filed a lawsuit in order to recoup those costs. And while the Illinois Appellate Court allowed some of the plaintiff’s claims, it denied others in Burcham v. West Bend Mutual Insurance Co., 2011 IL App (2d) 101035.

In 2007, the plaintiff, Curtis Burcham, was driving a truck for his employer, P&M Mercury Mechanical Corporation (P&M), when he was struck by an uninsured motorist. Burcham sustained multiple injuries from the truck accident and had to undergo several surgeries. Because the accident occurred while Burcham was working, his employer, P&M, paid for his medical expenses and lost wages out of its workers’ compensation policy. To date, P&M has paid $490,000 for medical expenses, more than $100,000 for temporary-total incapacity, and continues to pay $925 per week based on Burcham’s 2/3 weekly wage.

P&M also had an uninsured and underinsured motorist policy through West Bend Mutual Insurance Company. Since the other driver involved in Burcham’s truck accident was not insured, he sought to receive additional payments from West Bend under P&M’s truck insurance policy. However, West Bend denied the claim, citing a provision in its policy that it “will not pay for any element of loss if a person is entitled to receive payment for the same element of loss under any worker’s compensation, disability benefits or similar law.” West Bend’s position was that since Burcham was already receiving workers’ compensation payments for the truck accident that he was not entitled to any money from West Bend’s uninsured motorist policy.

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484010_business_man_modified.jpgAccording to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, workers’ compensation is “a no-fault system of benefits paid by employers to workers who experience job-related injuries or diseases.” The idea behind workers’ compensation is that when an employee is injured during the scope of his/her employment, that the employer will cover medical fees associated with that injury.

And while the employer may sometimes dispute the extent and nature of the injured worker’s injury, that was not the basis for the Illinois lawsuit of Elite Labor Services, Ltd. as subrogee of Fulgencio Nunez v. William Dudek Manufacturing, 09 L 14859. Rather, the lawsuit involved a dispute about who should pay the workers’ compensation benefits – the injured worker’s employer, or the company he was performing work for.

Fulgencio Nunez was employed by Elite Labor Services, a staffing agency specializing in contract and temp employees. Elite had agreed to supply staff to William Dudek Manufacturing, a manufacturing company that specialized in creating precision metal stampings and wire forms. In addition to supplying staff to Dudek, Elite had agreed to cover all workers’ compensation benefits for the workers it supplied to Dudek. However, the agreement regarding the workers’ compensation benefits was not formally set down in any contract, but rather was a verbal agreement between Elite and Dudek.

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concrete%20bridge%201.jpgThree Cook County construction workers secured a $5.4 million settlement from Walsh Construction Company in a Will County personal injury lawsuit. The settlement during the middle of the Cook County trial regarding the 2006 construction site accident.

In 2006, the three plaintiffs were working on a construction of a bridge that would extend Interstate 355 over the Des Plaines River. The bridge project was intended to have three lanes of traffic in each direction and rise to over 100 feet above the ground. The project was overseen by Walsh Construction Company, who in turn hired various subcontractors to handle different components of the construction project.

The three plaintiffs were employed as ironworkers by one of the subcontractors hired by Walsh Construction and were working on the bridge’s foundations at the time of the construction site accident. The plaintiffs became injured after a steel rebar cage collapsed. The rebar cage is meant to provide structure to the bridge and hold the concrete in place. The structure is typically composed of reinforced steel, with the cages generally being constructed off site.

As a result of the Cook County construction accident, one of the plaintiffs sustained two herniated discs in his back and broke his ankle. Another tore his rotator cuff and also suffered aggravation of a prior anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear. And the last faired the best of the three injured workers, sustaining only a contusion, or bruise, to his elbow.

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Workers’ compensation claims arise as a result of an employee being injured on the job. Because of the unique nature of these cases, Illinois workers’ compensation claims are handled by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (IWCC) instead of a civil court. However, just like other court systems, sometimes the IWCC does not rule correctly and claimants need to appeal its decision to a higher authority.

BandagedHand1%20.jpgFor example, in the case of Pactiv v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (Juan Luna, Appellee, No. 1-10-0086 WC, both the employer and employee appealed the decision made by the IWCC. The Illinois worker injury lawsuit arose out of an injury that the claimant, Juan Luna, received while working for his employer, Pactiv. Mr. Luna operated an extrusion machine, which created plastic rolls that weighted between 70 and 80 lbs., and was responsible for making simple repairs and basic adjustments.

However, while operating the extrusion machine in 2004, Luna lost five fingers on his right hand, which was also his dominant hand. Mr. Luna underwent extensive physical therapy and was able to eventually lift up to 5 lbs. with his right hand. His physician cleared Mr. Luna to return to medium or heavy duty at work. While Pactiv initially placed Mr. Luna on light duty, he was eventually returned to his prior job of running the extrusion machine.

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In Illinois if you are injured on the job, or develop future injuries as a result of your employment, then you are able to bring an Illinois workers’ compensation claim, which would be handled by the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission (IWCC). However, if your injuries were the result of your career as a pro-football player, then you would not be able to bring a workers’ compensation claim under the IWCC. As a pro-football player your only option to recover medical payments under a workers’ compensation system is under the Industrial Commission of California.

NFL%201.jpgThese cases are brought in the Industrial Commission in California because that’s the only jurisdiction that allows long-retired professional athletes to pursue workers’ compensation for injuries they suffered and continue to suffer from their playing days. Illinois has no similar provision for recovery in the Illinois Industrial Commission.

Many of these retired National Football League (NFL) players are represented by Ron Mix and Mel Owens, two former NFL players turned lawyers. Mix and Owens represent over 1,000 retired NFL players in the workers’ compensation system in California. Like many Illinois workers’ compensation cases, decisions have to be made by the injured party as to whether to accept a lump sum settlement that would end any future payment of medical care or to leave open medical in case that the worker requires future medical treatment.

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