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.
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.
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.
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 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.
The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission issued a ruling denying benefits to an operator who sustained an injury while moving between workstations, because the injury was the result of a risk that was personal to the individual and not incidental to employment.
In the case, Wade v. General Dynamics, an operator was required to examine parts in one area of her workplace and then take them to another area that contained a “reverse torque” machine. The worker stepped on her shoelace when she turned to leave one area, losing her balance and holding on to a table to keep from falling. She experienced pain in her buttocks and lower back and received a diagnosis of a sprain in her spine, hip spasms and pain in her knee. The worker underwent surgery.
The workers’ compensation arbitrator found that the worker lacked credibility. The IWCC, while finding that the worker was credible, denied her workers’ compensation benefits. The commission found that the employee was not required to work at a pace that would have made it more likely that she would step on her shoelace. Because she was not at greater risk of stepping on her shoelace than the general public, the injury was found not to have arisen out of and in the course of her employment.
A workplace safety fair will be held June 18 at the Renaissance Chicago North Shore Hotel in Northbrook, Illinois. Safety and health professionals will learn about work safety products and educational resources to maintain a safer workplace.
There is a great need for improvements in workplace safety, as millions are injured at work each year and thousands of people lose their lives. Overall, there has been a decrease in fatal work injuries, which are down 21 percent since 2006, but there were still 4,693 workplace deaths in 2011. There are nearly 13 deaths due to workplace injuries every day.
Nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses are a continuing problem as well. In 2011 there were nearly 3 million cases of such injuries and illnesses reported, with about 900,000 cases involving days spent away from work.
In Illinois, there were 177 fatal workplace injuries in 2011. The rate of nonfatal work injuries and illnesses in the state was 3.2 per 100 full-time workers, statistically less than the national average.
The workplace safety fair is hosted by Spectrum OSHA Training Services, and features demonstrations of safety products and information on accident prevention and compliance with safety regulations.
The truck driver who struck and killed an Illinois State Police officer has been charged with reckless homicide, but the trooper’s family blames the trucker’s employer in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Johnny Felton Jr. was driving a truck for Dot Transportation along Interstate 55 outside of Litchfield, Illinois in November when he struck and killed officer Kyle Deatherage, who was 32 years old and the father of two small children. Montgomery County state prosecutors have charged Felton with reckless homicide and operating a tractor-trailer in violation of his driver’s license restrictions that prohibited him from operating a commercial vehicle outside the state of Georgia.
Deatherage’s widow has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Felton’s employer, claiming that Dot Transportation must have been aware that Felton was not licensed to operate a commercial vehicle in Illinois and that Felton should not have driven the truck due to an unspecified medical condition. In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a citation to Dot Transportation for knowingly permitting Felton to drive a commercial vehicle without a proper license.
According to Dot Transportation, Felton had held an interstate license for most of the five years he was employed by the company, but in July when he renewed his license, he checked a box for “intrastate” rather than “interstate,” thus unknowingly restricting his license. Dot Transportation is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dot Foods, which is based in Mt. Sterling, Illinois and describes itself as the country’s largest food redistributor.
Dot Foods is seeking to transfer the wrongful death lawsuit from Madison County to Montgomery County, where the accident took place.
A bill to create a state fund for workers’ compensation insurance in Illinois has passed the House Committee on State Government Administration. House Bill 2919 would create a state insurance fund that would compete with private insurers.
Advocates of the change say that the fund would provide private insurers with competition, which would bring workers’ compensation premiums down for employers. The bill is supported by Democrats in the state legislature, who say the goal is fair and affordable insurance rates for businesses. Private insurers are strongly opposed to the bill, saying that a state fund will not bring prices down and would violate free market principles. Currently more than 300 private insurance companies compete for workers’ compensation business in Illinois.
Workers’ compensation insurance premiums have already dropped 9.2 percent since reforms that began in September of 2011, but advocates of the state fund say that is not fast enough. Representatives of the insurance industry say that rates have not dropped as much as expected partly because of the increasing cost of health care.
Approximately half of U.S. states have a state fund for workers’ comp insurance, with most of these allowing the state fund to compete with private insurers. Four states have a state fund as the exclusive insurer for workers’ compensation. Researchers have found that the occasional higher losses of state funds are offset by better efforts to prevent work injuries and lower overhead expenses.
Illinois State Representative Dwight Kay, Republican of Glen Carbon, has introduced four bills proposing changes in the state’s workers’ compensation system. The bills received testimony in the House Labor & Commerce Committee but have not yet been called to a vote.
The bills, House Bills 1245, 1246, 2229 and 2769, are four of nine bills involving the workers’ compensation system introduced by Kay this session.
HB 2229 is opposed by the Illinois Trial Lawyers’ Association (ITLA), the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois (AFFI) and other groups. The bill aims to change current workers’ compensation law, which puts emergency medical technicians (EMTs) in the same category as firefighters for purposes of employers purchasing workers’ compensation insurance. Under the new bill, those provisions of the law would only be applicable to EMTs who are also cross-trained as firefighters. Kay said current law places an undue burden on municipalities and counties that pay the increased amount for workers’ compensation insurance for EMTs.
HB 2769, also introduced by Kay, would change workers’ compensation law such that any amount awarded for a partial disability would be subtracted from any amount awarded for a later injury to the same part of the body, and would limit partial disability payments to 500 weeks, which would constitute total disability. Kay said the changes would prevent situations in which partial disability awards amounted to more than what a total disability award would have been.