After a worker was killed when his arm became trapped by a conveyor belt, the owner of the Illinois scrap metal recycling facility where he worked has received a fine of nearly half a million dollars for numerous safety violations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said that the conveyor belt should not have been running at the time of the worker’s death.
The scrap metal recycling facility is owned by Behr & Sons, which has been cited for previous safety violations at its facilities in Illinois and Iowa. However, despite that pattern, OSHA had never inspected the facility where the worker died until after the incident in March.
OSHA said in a press release that the company has now been deemed a severe violator and will be subject to additional inspections. According to OSHA, the company has shown a pattern of neglecting worker safety and requires a “culture change.”
However, OSHA’s budget has been cut significantly over the years. Statistics show that in 2011, there were not as many OSHA inspectors as there were in 1981, despite the fact that there were twice as many workplaces to inspect.
According to OSHA regional administrator Nick Walters, Behr & Sons let the conveyor belt run at unsafe times because it increased efficiency.
An Illinois Appellate Court recently ruled that a worker who allegedly sustained exposure to asbestos while working for his employer between 1966 and 1970 was not barred from pursuing a personal injury claim by the exclusive remedy provisions of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. The claim was not compensable under the Act, as the statute of repose had expired.
In the case of Folta v. Ferro Engineering, James Folta allegedly sustained exposure to asbestos while working for the defendant, his employer, in the time period between 1966 and 1970. Forty-one years later, on May 17, 2011, he was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma.
Generally, the no-fault compensation provided under the Workers’ Compensation Act is the exclusive remedy for workers whose injuries arise out of and in the course of their employment. However, a statute of repose limits asbestos claims under the Act to a 25-year period from the time the employee was exposed. Another statute of repose limits claims under the Illinois Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act to a three-year period.
The First District Appellate Court ruled that because the plaintiff’s workers’ compensation claim was time-barred, his injury was “not compensable under the Act,” and he could therefore pursue a civil lawsuit against his employer.
On June 5, 2014, Senate Bill 3287 passed both houses of the Illinois legislature and was signed into law by Governor Quinn, becoming Public Act 98-33. The law eliminates immunity for third-party maintenance or service corporations from third-party lawsuits under the exclusive remedy provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act.
The law went into effect immediately.
The new law was passed in response to a recent appellate court decision. In Brenda Mockbee v. Humphrey Manlift Co. Inc., the First District Appellate Court ruled that a worker who was left paraplegic after a work accident could not file a lawsuit against safety consultants who were hired by her employer, Quaker Oats.
The new law allows injured workers like Mockbee to file a civil lawsuit against a negligent third-party maintenance company hired by an employer. Independent maintenance organizations that provide independent services to an employer are thus subject to liability in court, while a service company that is wholly owned by the employer or wholly owned by the employer’s broker or insurer are still protected from civil lawsuits under the exclusive remedy provisions.
The new law “reaffirmed 45 years of legal precedent,” according to Stephen D. Phillips, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association. The law does not increase workers’ compensation benefits paid by the employer.
The Appellate Court of Illinois reversed the judgment of a trial court in a workers’ compensation case, ruling that the worker’s injury in a fall was compensable.
The claimant, Jane R. Brais, suffered an injury to her wrist when she tripped on a faulty sidewalk outside the Kankakee County courthouse, where she worked in the circuit clerk’s office. The trial court affirmed the arbitrator’s decision to deny benefits because the injury did not arise out of the worker’s employment. However, the appeals court reversed and remanded the cause case to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.
The appeals court found that the claimant was required to attend a meeting at a nearby building and was returning to work through the only entrance that was open at the time. The court found that the cracked sidewalk was a contributing cause of the worker’s injury and that it was a special hazard. The court also said that using the cracked sidewalk was a hazard that was part of the worker’s employment; even though the public also used the sidewalk, the employee was exposed to a greater risk than the public because of the demands of her work. The court said that the only reasonable inference based on the evidence was that the worker’s injuries arose out of her employment.
The Appellate Court of Illinois recently decided an important workers’ compensation case. The court denied an employer’s request for a rehearing in a case concerning the issue of whether the company’s intent was to stipulate to payment of certain rates for the medical treatment expenses of an employee.
The court upheld the award of benefits to the worker and ordered the Workers’ Compensation Commission to reconsider the worker’s reimbursement request for his home modifications.
The claimant, Jeffrey Berman, was employed as a food-service manager by Compass Group. He injured his back on March 19, 2009 while picking up a 40-pound box of bottled soda. A subsequent fall led to extensive complications that required hospitalization. The claimant was awarded benefits, and the employer stipulated to a fee schedule for payments for medical expenses.
In legal settings, “stipulation” refers to an agreement between the attorneys on either side of the case about certain facts and issues. The agreements are voluntary, and they are usually intended to save time in courtroom disputes. In this case, the two sides stipulated to issues concerning the company’s obligations to its employee.
On appeal, Compass Group argued that the medical expenses should have been based on a negotiated rate rather than a fee schedule. However, the court ruled that the fee schedule must stand, because the company had entered into a stipulation agreeing to it.
The claimant also cross-appealed, arguing that it was improper for the Commission to reject his claim for reimbursement for home modifications that he undertook himself based on the recommendation of a physical therapist. The Commission rejected his claim because the modifications were not recommended by a doctor. The court ruled, though, that the recommendation of a doctor is not always required, and remanded the case for further proceedings on that issue.
In 2011, an across-the-board 30 percent cut was implemented in medical fee schedules for the Illinois workers’ compensation system. Some observers say that medical fees in the workers’ compensation system are now so low that doctors and other medical professionals may be reluctant to treat injured workers.
Doctors report that workers’ compensation payments are now lower than Medicare rates, which has an impact on access to medical care.
A study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute, a think tank funded by the insurance industry, found that prices for surgeries in the workers’ comp system remain high, while the cost of office visits may be too low.
The report claimed that if workers’ compensation prices are set below prices paid by group health insurers or Medicare, then injured workers may not have access to care. However, if prices are set higher than for other payors, then they could be lowered without affecting access to care.
The report also compared prices paid for nonhospital professional medical services and for group health prices and Medicare rates after the 2011 fee reduction. A significant difference between surgery costs and office visits was found.
The average workers’ compensation office visit cost for a condition of low or moderate severity was $62, $14 less than the estimated group health care plan price and $11 below the Medicare rate. Researchers said that policymakers should consider whether the lowered fee schedule may impair access to care.
The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission recently ruled against a train operator who claimed a mental disability based on the trauma of believing that the train he was operating had struck and killed a pedestrian.
The worker was operating a train exiting a tunnel when he observed two young men running across the tracks. The operator was not able to stop the train, and he heard a thumping noise that caused him to believe that the train had run over and killed one of the men. However, upon exiting the train, the operator observed the two men running away.
The train operator sought psychological counseling for sleep disturbance, anxiety, flashbacks, fatigue and headaches. He also sought workers’ compensation benefits for a psychiatric disability.
The arbitrator in the case denied the worker benefits, finding that he was not exposed to a severe and sudden emotional shock. The arbitrator’s decision was confirmed by the commission.
The commission held that the operator had testified credibly as to the events. However, because the injured man was able to stand up under his own power, jump a fence and run away, the operator did not face the emotional shock of witnessing the aftermath of what he believed had happened.
In addition, the commission agreed with the arbitrator’s finding that the alleged mental disorder did not arise from a situation beyond the usual emotional tension and strain that workers must experience, particularly those who operate motorized vehicles.
The Illinois Appellate Court has issued a judgment ruling that affirms part of and reverses part of a trial court’s decision regarding a workers’ compensation claims. The worker in question had been training with the city of Chicago to become a paramedic.
Joseph Locasto was employed by the city of Chicago as a trainee at the Chicago Fire and Paramedic Academy,where he was training to become a paramedic for the Chicago Fire Department. In May 2008, after two days of intense training that Locasto claims included military-style hazing and long periods of continuous physical exercise with limited water breaks, he experienced leg cramping and discolored urine.
Locasto went to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with acute kidney failure, rhabdomyolysis and compartment syndrome. Rhabdomyolysis is a condition that causes the kidneys to stop functioning, and it can be caused by overexertion and dehydration. The condition affected Locasto’s ability to work, and he claimed disability benefits. A retirement board found that the claimant had made a full recovery by August 3, 2009.
The trial court awarded temporary total disability for time periods prior to August 3, 2009. That judgment was affirmed by the appellate court. However, the trial court confirmed a ruling by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission that awarded benefits for temporary partial disability and temporary total disability after August 3, 2009, but the appellate court reversed that judgment.
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.
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.