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Fast-food worker wins benefits in court after altercation with coworker

Recently, a fast-food chain employee won workers’ compensation benefits in a case that came before the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission on appeal. After a workers’ compensation case is decided in court, either the worker or the employer may appeal the decision to the commission.

The case involved an altercation with a coworker, and it hinged on whether or not the worker was the aggressor in that struggle. The plaintiff sought benefits after she was injured in a workplace scuffle. Allegedly, the woman placed a dish in the wrong sink, and a coworker responded by spraying her with a hose. She also claimed that on another occasion, the coworker tried to put her into the sink.

In the altercation that followed, the woman struck her coworker in the groin area, and she claimed that her coworker forcefully pulled on her arm, causing the injury. A witness corroborated that the woman hit her coworker in the groin, but there was uncertainty as to whether the action was purposeful or accidental. The employer sought to have the claim denied based on rules that preclude a worker from being awarded workers’ compensation benefits if he or she is the aggressor in a fight that causes injuries to the worker.

The commission determined that the woman’s conduct in striking her coworker did not trigger the aggressor defense for the employer, regardless of whether or not the action was accidental. The commission therefore granted the woman’s request for benefits.

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Messenger Establishes Employment Relationship in Workers’ Compensation Case

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission has found that a bicycle messenger was an employee of a courier service and was therefore entitled to benefits, despite an agreement stating that the messenger was an independent contractor.

The case arose from an injury the bicycle messenger received when he was struck from behind by a vehicle while making a delivery. Evidence submitted in the case indicated that the messenger and the courier service had signed an independent contractor agreement, and that the messenger had also signed an agreement with the National Independent Contractor Association. The agreements provided that the messenger would be paid by the association after deductions were made for general liability insurance and bicycle insurance, as well as for leasing fees for a radio and other equipment.

Despite the language of the agreements, the commission affirmed the decision of the arbitrator, finding that the messenger was an employee of the courier service. The commission relied on a previous decision involving the same courier service and a nearly identical independent contractor agreement. In finding that the messenger was not an independent contractor in the previous decision, the current commission noted that the courier service still exercised control over the messenger’s work schedule and other work details. The commission also considered the fact that the messenger’s work was the lifeblood of the courier service business and that the work did not involve particular skills.

In both decisions, the commission found that an employer-employee relationship existed between the messenger and the courier service.

Two Illinois Workers Injured in Combustible Dust Explosion

An Illinois metal products company was cited for safety violations after two workers were injured in a combustible dust explosion at a Glendale Heights Facility.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued the citations to Northstar Metal Products for 11 violations of health and safety regulations following the April 1 incident. One of the workers injured suffered burns to his face, arm and hand. OSHA proposed fines totaling $51,480.

An OSHA official said that manufacturing companies that engage in processes that produce combustible dust must take special precautions to avoid explosions and injuries.

One repeat citation was for the failure to control hazardous energy. The company had been cited for a similar violation in 2011.

Other violations included failure to control hazards resulting from aluminum dust, lack of fall protection and respiratory protection, lack of machine guarding, improperly maintained fire extinguishers, inadequate signage and violations of practices regarding electrical work. These were all classified as serious violations, meaning that there is a substantial probability that the dangerous condition could cause serious injury or death, and that the employer knew or should have known about the condition.

Northstar Metal Products had previously been cited by OSHA for 11 violations.

The company was given 15 days from the receipt of the citations to comply or contest the findings.

Unions Criticize Chamber of Commerce Over Workers’ Comp Report

In a joint statement, the Illinois AFL-CIO and the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association criticized the Illinois Chamber of Commerce over the Chamber’s report on alleged flaws in the state’s workers’ compensation program.

The statement said that the Chamber’s report misrepresents facts and is part of a campaign to “dismantle” the workers’ compensation system.

The report criticized specific judges for court decisions that resulted in higher payments to injured workers. The Chamber alleged that these decisions hurt the state’s economy and limited some of the benefits expected by recent reform of the workers’ compensation system. The Chamber also blamed Illinois’ high workers’ compensation insurance premium on the judicial decisions cited in the report.

The AFL-CIO and ITLA pointed out that the cases the Chamber criticized predate the current reforms, and that the reforms have reduced insurance rates by more than $315 million per year, or 14.1 percent. Their statement also suggested that if employers are not saving on insurance, then the insurance companies must be keeping the profits.

The statement also said that the Chamber’s report amounted to “cherry picking,” as the cases criticized in the report represent less than one percent of workers’ comp cases disposed of by the Appellate and Supreme courts.

Employer Convicted of Felony for Failure to Secure Workers’ Compensation Insurance

An employer was convicted of a felony for failing to obtain workers’ compensation insurance, a first in the state of Illinois. The felony conviction was secured by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, the Special Prosecution Division of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.

Ahmed Ghosien, doing business as Ghosien European Auto Werks, entered a guilty plea to a Class 4 felony. According to the state, Ghosien refused to comply with the legal requirement to obtain workers’ compensation insurance after many opportunities and aggressive enforcement action against him.

The penalty for failure to obtain insurance was increased from a misdemeanor to a Class 4 felony in 2005, and the current case is the first felony conviction secured for the offense in Illinois.

Michael P. Latz, chairman of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, said that employers who fail to obtain the insurance put workers at risk and compete unfairly against companies that follow the law. He said that such employers ultimately shift their business costs to Illinois taxpayers.

According to the IWCC, Ghosien operates an auto repair shop in Hometown, Illinois, and failed to obtain workers’ compensation insurance for the mechanics who work there. In 2010, he was fined and briefly obtained insurance. However, Ghosien did not pay all of the fine or the insurance premium, and a criminal indictment was issued.

Illinois Supreme Court Allows Mailbox Rule in Workers’ Compensation Case

The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the “mailbox rule” as it applies to workers’ compensation cases. The court held that the petitioner’s appeal to the circuit court was timely filed because it was postmarked by the filing deadline.

Justice Robert R. Thomas, writing for the majority in the 5-2 decision, said that upholding the rule in such cases would bring “harmony and consistency” to the process of review in workers’ compensation cases, because the rule is presumed at other stages of an appeal.

The court also noted that the Illinois General Assembly has specified when the rule is not applicable and in state courts the modern trend is to allow the mailbox rule, essentially equating time of mailing with time of filing.

The decision overturned a ruling by the Workers’ Compensation Commission Division of the Illinois Appellate Court.

The case stems from a lower back injury that a worker received while pulling pins from the ground as part of roadwork for a construction contractor. The worker’s initial claim was denied by an arbitrator, and that decision was upheld by McHenry County Associate Judge Thomas A. Meyer.

The worker’s circuit court filings were received on May 14, 2009, four days after the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act’s statutory deadline for “commencing” an appeal.

The high court said that the question was whether a proceeding is begun when the appropriate filings are placed in the mailbox or when they are file-stamped by the court clerk. The court observed that appeals to the commission and to the appellate court follow the mailbox rule, and the same rule should apply at every stage of review. The court also said that the legislature is aware that courts have construed statutes as including the mailbox rule and they have precluded it only in the case of certain documents filed under the Election Code.

Employee Claims Retaliation for Filing Workers’ Compensation Claim

An Illinois woman claims she was fired from a retail store because she filed a workers’ compensation claim.

Cynthia Hewitt filed a lawsuit against Casey’s General Store in Maryville. According to the lawsuit, Hewitt began working at the store in September 2011. She claims that she fell and injured her back while moving a tall stepladder inside the store on February 28, 2012. After the injury, Hewitt filed a successful workers’ compensation claim, receiving $220 per week in benefits for total temporary disability beginning March 3, 2012.

Hewitt says in the complaint that she underwent surgery on her back in July 2012 and was approved by her doctor six months later to return to light duty work, meaning she could lift a maximum of 15 pounds. She claims the store refused to assign her to light duty work.

In March 2012, Hewitt says her doctor approved her return to work with no restrictions, and her disability payments ceased. However, according to the lawsuit, the store refused to allow her to return to work. Hewitt claims she applied for unemployment benefits but was denied because her employer had reported that she was “discharged.”

The complaint alleges that the employer’s actions are a violation of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $50,000.

Employee Denied Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Fall from Chair

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission ruled that a Department of Human Services worker was not entitled to compensation for a fall from a chair, because her work did not expose her to an increased risk of falling.

A security therapy aide employed by the Department of Human Services testified that she was writing notes while sitting on a plastic chair when the chair slipped out from under her and she fell, injuring her back, head and right hand. The worker testified that the floors had been waxed the previous night, and though the chair was not on wheels, it slipped on the floor.

The workers’ compensation arbitrator found that the accident arose out of and in the course of the worker’s employment and awarded permanent partial disability benefits and medical expenses. However, the commission reversed the arbitrator’s decision, finding that the aide was not eligible for benefits.

The commission found that the worker was not exposed to increased risk of falling merely by being seated in the chair and that she did not show how her injuries arose out of her employment. The commission found that the aide did not show a causal relationship between the floors being waxed the previous night and her falling out of her chair.

Worker Claims He Was Fired After Applying for Workers’ Compensation Benefits

A lawsuit has been filed alleging that a worker was fired after applying for workers’ compensation benefits.

Roger Johnson filed suit June 11 in St. Clair County Circuit Court, claiming that he was wrongly discharged. The plaintiff alleges that he was employed by defendant Commercial Transport when he sustained injuries on April 30, 2012. According to the complaint, Johnson filed for workers’ compensation benefits shortly after his injury.

The complaint alleges that Johnson’s employment was terminated after he applied for benefits, a violation of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. The lawsuit states that Johnson lost wages and health and pension benefits and suffered mental anguish and damage to his reputation.

Johnson is seeking damages in excess of $50,000 as well as punitive damages in excess of $50,000, plus costs.

Under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, an employer may not retaliate against a worker for exercising his or her rights in regards to workers’ compensation by discharging, harassing, refusing to rehire, or discriminating against the employee in any way, and violation of this provision may give rise to a cause of action in court.

Researchers Say Hospitals Should Track Workplace Injuries

Researchers say that a small change in the way hospitals record data could have a big impact on preventing occupational safety and health hazards. The researchers, from Drexel University’s School of Health, say that recording industry and occupation data for injuries will supply valuable information that can help health care professionals and industry decision-makers learn more about how and why workplace accidents happen and how best to prevent them.

There are nearly 4 million workplace injuries each year, but hospitals in the United States currently do not track or record these accidents. Instead, the estimated number of workplace injuries comes from probability samples, which may underestimate the actual number of injuries. Such estimates also lack crucial details about how injuries happen that would be extremely helpful in prevention efforts.

The researchers proposed the data collection practice in an article in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The authors point out the benefits of collecting occupational and industry data and describe coding standards and other processes that could be used. They point out that the change would not be cost-intensive, since existing federal standard codes could simply be added to hospital discharge data. A program at Michigan State University tracked amputations that involved workplace injuries and led to the discovery of workplace hazards.

The data collection proposal came out of the work of the Firefighter Injury Research and Safety Trends project at Drexel University, which is working toward a comprehensive system for recording information about injuries to firefighters.

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The law firm of Briskman Briskman & Greenberg represents injured people throughout Illinois, including Chicago, the Chicagoland area, Joliet, Waukegan, Cicero, Evanston, Arlington Heights, Wheaton, Bolingbrook, and Naperville, as well as other cities within Cook County, Will County, DuPage County, Lake County and McHenry County. Briskman Briskman & Greenberg also represents injured people throughout Wisconsin, including Kenosha, Milwaukee, and Madison.
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