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In Illinois, more than 200,000 workers are injured in some kind of work-related accident each year. The majority of those incidents don’t result in workers compensation claims, but in 2013 nearly 45,000 of them did, according to the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission’s annual report. The number of new workers compensation claims is declining, but 45,000 claims is still a lot of injured workers.
Workers compensation is a system that allows workers who get hurt in work-related accidents to make claims for payment without having to file personal injury lawsuits. Employers either buy workers compensation insurance or get approval from the state to be self-insured to cover employees in the event of an injury.
Workers compensation is a no-fault system. The worker doesn’t have to prove the employer was negligent to make a workers compensation claim, and a worker can make a claim even if he or she was negligent in some way and that negligence contributed to the injury. As long as the person suffered a type of work-related injury covered by the Workers Compensation Act, he or she can make a claim. Generally speaking, covered injuries are those that:
- Arise from the employment — Injuries must have a direct causal relationship with some danger or risk of the employment and must be job-related
- In the course of employment — Injuries have to happen while the employee is working, at a location the employee is at because of his or her employment, and under circumstances required by the employment
When a claim is approved, available benefits can take a number of forms in Illinois. Workers compensation can cover:
- Medical care related to the injury
- Temporary total or partial disability benefits when the injury leaves you unable to work or working light duty for some time period
- Permanent total or partial disability benefits if you are either permanently unable to work or have some permanent disability or disfigurement but can work
- Vocational rehabilitation benefits
- Death benefits for family members of workers who are killed in work-related accidents
Why Workers Compensation?
The rise of industry is the foundation of much of the world we know today. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries as mechanization and mass production become increasingly more commonplace, jobs shifted from agriculture to factories, bringing people to cities for work. Places such as Chicago boomed and expanded. But those early factories could be dangerous places for workers — and when a worker was disabled in those days, there was no safety net when that person could no longer do his or her job.
Workers who were injured, maimed, or disabled in workplace accidents had to sue their employers and prove negligence to recover any kind of compensation for their injuries. Proving those cases was challenging, and an employer could counter that the injured worker was negligent or assumed the risk of doing the job, or that another employee was negligent. If the employer won, the disabled worker was left with nothing and no way to earn wages. If the worker won, there were no limits to the employer’s liability and one bad injury could put an employer out of business — perhaps costing hundreds of jobs. It was a system that was risky for both employer and employee.
The workers compensation system came into being as a way to try to balance the needs of injured workers with those of employers. Laws governing workers compensation grew out of social and industrial reform movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The idea was that workers who suffer disabling injuries in the workplace shouldn’t be financially ruined when an accident on the job renders them unable to work, but that employers also shouldn’t be driven out of business by a lawsuit verdict.
The Role of an Attorney
Even though workers compensation claims don’t typically involve lawsuits or courts, there is nonetheless a specific legal process involved in making a claim. There may be an opportunity to settle a claim with your employer, and an experienced workers compensation attorney can help ensure you get the best possible settlement. If you try to go it alone, you may end up with less than you deserve.
If your case doesn’t settle, it will go to arbitration, where the arbitrator will settle, dismiss, or render a decision. A lawyer can represent you in the arbitration and make sure your arguments are presented in the best manner to support your claim.
According to the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission, about half of decisions made by arbitrators in workers compensation claims are appealed to a commissioner, and 25 percent of the appeals decided by a commissioner are then appealed to a Circuit Court. If you need to appeal a claim, having a Chicago personal injury lawyer gives you a better chance at winning your appeal and getting the compensation you need and deserve.
Sometimes your work-related injury will involve a third party who is not your employer, and you may have the option to pursue a claim against that third party in a civil court. An attorney experienced with personal injury and workers compensation claims can discuss with you whether you might have a claim against someone other than your employer.