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Illinois Appellate Court Affirms Police Officer’s Workers’ Comp Claim

The Illinois Appellate Court has affirmed the decision of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission — and therefore, upheld an award of benefits to a community service officer who was injured when he fell down a flight of stairs at a police station. The appellate court agreed with the original decision that the officer’s employment put him at a greater risk of injury.

In Village of Villa Park v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Comm’n, the Village of Villa Park appealed an order from the circuit court, which confirmed the Commission’s award of benefits to community service officer John Simons. The circuit court found that his injury arose out of and in the course of his employment.

Simons was injured on April 5, 2007 while he was on duty at a Village police station. As a community service officer, he performed duties that included parking enforcement, police officer backup and accident reports. Simons’ knee gave out as he descended a staircase, and he sustained injuries to his lower back and right knee. He was treated at the Elmhurst Hospital emergency room.

Simons had injured his knee in a prior fall unrelated to his employment, and another officer observed that Simons was walking with a limp prior to the fall at work. However, a different officer testified that he had not noticed Simons limping before the accident.

Usually, risks personal to an employee are not compensable unless the employment places the worker at a greater risk. Simons’ case revolved around whether an exception applied to the general rule of noncompensability for injuries caused by personal risk. The appellate court agreed with the original ruling and held that the officer’s employment put him at a greater risk of injury than the general public and that his injury arose out of and in the course of his employment.

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USPS facility in Illinois cited for safety violations

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor cited a U.S. Postal Service facility in Champaign, Illinois for eight safety violations. The administration proposed fines of $144,000. During a June 2013 complaint inspection, inspectors found a lack of fall protection and energy control procedures that exposed employees to increased risk of work injuries.

The inspection found safety violations in the training provided for stopping equipment before clearing jams. Inspectors found that workers were exposed to amputation and laceration hazards due to the potential for unintentional operation of the conveyor while jams were being cleared.

The citations included four repeat violations, including failure to ensure that each device had a tagout or lockout device affixed by authorized employees and failure to conduct inspections of energy control procedures. Other violations included failure to ensure the uniform height of stairway risers and inadequate fall protection for workers clearing jams on a conveyor.

Three violations were cited as “serious,” meaning that there is a substantial probability that serious physical harm or death could occur as the result of a hazard of which the employer was aware or should have been aware.

The Champaign facility employs 294 workers. About 434,000 people work for the Postal Service nationwide.

Family of Junior Seau objects to NFL concussion settlement, says wrongful death claims should be treated differently

The family of Junior Seau, an NFL player who committed suicide in 2012, has objected to the league’s $760 million proposal to settle a lawsuit by thousands of former players over the risk of concussion injuries. Seau’s family said that wrongful death claims should be treated differently from injury claims.

The deal has already been rejected by a federal judge, who felt it did not allocate enough money for such a large group of plaintiffs. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, $5 million would be allocated for each former player with a diagnosis of a brain condition caused by repeated blows to the head during NFL practice and play. However, attorneys for Seau’s family said that only a minimal payment of a few thousand dollars would be available for family members of retired or deceased players.

Seau died in 2012 from a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest. Later studies of his brain confirmed that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a brain disease that results from repeated head trauma and that can cause dementia and aggressive behavior.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Philadelphia, has 4,500 plaintiffs. Up to 20,000 former players could eventually receive payment.

After the judge’s rejection of the NFL’s settlement offer, experts said that the league would likely have to negotiate a higher settlement. Seau’s family asked the judge to take their concerns into account in deciding on future settlement proposals.

Proposed legislation would limit workers’ comp

In Illinois, legislation has been proposed that would limit employees’ ability to receive workers’ compensation for injuries sustained in accidents on the way to work.

State Sen. Kyle McCarter (R, Lebanon) introduced Senate Bill 2622, which would prevent requirements for employers to provide workers’ compensation if a worker was not traveling specifically for work purposes when he or she was injured.

The proposed law states that an injured worker may only receive compensation if the injury “arises out of and in the course of employment” and while the worker is “actively engaged in the duties” of his or her employment.

The legislation would deal with cases such as one recently decided by the Illinois Supreme Court, in which a Springfield pipefitter accepted a temporary job at a Rock Island County power plant. The worker stayed in a motel to avoid the 200 mile commute. On the way to work, the man and a coworker hit an icy patch of road and crashed. The worker was seriously injured.

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission found that the worker should receive compensation, but the state high court ruled that the worker made a personal decision to take the job knowing the length of commute required, and that he was therefore not a traveling employee.

Senate Bill 2622 was introduced before the Supreme Court ruling.

Railroad companies ordered to pay back wages to injured workers after whistleblower investigation

After a whistleblower investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the agency ordered two railroad companies to pay back wages to five injured, suspended workers.

OSHA found that Union Pacific Railroad Co. and Grand Trunk Western Railway Co. violated federal law by disciplining and/or suspending the five employees after reports of workplace illnesses or injuries. The companies disciplined the workers and suspended them for between one and 60 days with no pay after they reported illnesses or injuries.

An OSHA spokesperson said that companies may not retaliate against workers for reporting a workplace injury, and that this type of retaliation was far too prevalent in the railroad industry.

The companies were ordered to pay the employees compensatory and punitive damages, back wages plus interest and attorney’s fees. In addition, the disciplinary information must be removed from the workers’ personnel files, and the companies must post information about whistleblowers’ rights in the workplace.

Grand Trunk Western was ordered to pay four workers, including three conductors and a carpenter, a total of $85,580. Union Pacific was ordered to pay one worker $11,289.68 along with interest and attorney’s fees.

OSHA is responsible for enforcement of the whistleblower provisions of 22 separate statutes that protect workers who report specific violations of the law in certain industries. Workers who believe they have been victims of retaliation may request an OSHA investigation.

OSHA launches probe of worker injury at snowboard park

A federal investigation has been launched into an accident at a snowboard park in which a young worker suffered a serious injury to his arm. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced the investigation.

The teenage worker’s arm became stuck in a conveyor lift at Raging Buffalo Snowboard Park and Ski Area in Algonquin. A coworker found the injured employee stuck in the conveyor lift at the top of a ski hill. First responders needed approximately one hour to free his arm by cutting through the lift. According to authorities, the injured employee was then airlifted to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.

More than 30 emergency personnel and nine emergency vehicles responded to the scene.

An OSHA spokesperson said that investigators will attempt to determine if there were any safety violations involved in the incident. The investigation is expected to last up to six months and will involve inspections of the machinery, interviews with employees and a determination of whether the worker was trained to work on the lift.

The investigation will also examine whether there was a lock-out mechanism installed with the equipment to prevent it from operating while being serviced.

The park is permitted to operate while the investigation continues.

Department of Labor launches investigation into death of Illinois Tollway worker

The Illinois Department of Labor launched an investigation into the death of an Illinois Tollway maintenance worker on January 27. The worker was killed, and a State Trooper suffered serious injuries, while they were assisting highway motorists under severe weather conditions. The investigation was launched immediately.

The accident occurred when a truck crashed into a police vehicle and another truck on the Illinois Tollway in the western suburbs of Chicago. Vincent Petrella, a 39-year-old worker who grew up in the Little Italy neighborhood of Chicago, was killed in the crash. State Trooper Douglas Balder was seriously injured. Balder, a Navy reservist, had recently rejoined the police force after a third mobilization.

A witness said that the truck that struck the two vehicles failed to get out of the way of the police vehicle, which was parked on the shoulder with emergency lights flashing. Each year, Illinois State Police issue hundreds of violations for this offense.

The Department of Labor inspects worksites where such accidents occur in order to determine whether a violation of health and safety standards took place and whether such an alleged violation had any effect on the accident. Violations may include a breach of Illinois Department of Labor rules or an Occupational Safety and Health Administration violation.

Joe Costigan, the Director of the Department, extended sympathies to the family and said that a thorough investigation would be conducted. Costigan also asked drivers to travel slowly and remain aware of emergency work crews during severe weather conditions.

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.

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.

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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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