Heather Isringhausen Gvillo Oct. 31, 2013, 1:38pm

Cop suffers post traumatic stress disorder after confronting a suspect with a toy gun.

Maid slips and falls on ice in her own driveway.

“Good Samaritan” worker injures hip in the process of trying to dislodge chips from a vending machine for a co-worker.

What do these unfortunate situations have in common? Illinois workers’ compensation awards.

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce released a report Oct. 29 critical of the state’s attempts at reforming a system that it says has contributed significantly to the state’s economic decline over the last decade.

Titled, “The Impact of Judicial Activism in Illinois: Worker’s Compensation Rulings from the Employer’s Perspective,” the report highlights 19 work comp cases (including three noted above) that it says have expanded employer liability.

According to the report, Illinois’ workers’ compensation system has gotten out of control due to its weak causation standard – a standard so low that attorneys representing employers have a difficult time defending claims.

The Illinois Chamber believes that strengthening the causation standard is key to taking control of compensation costs that have gotten out of control.

“In Illinois, an injured employee need only show that some phase or factor of the employment contributed to the resulting injury or disabling condition for which benefits are sought,” the report states.

It details the state’s attempts at reform, beginning with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act of 1975. The Act was addressed again in 2005 under a Democratically-controlled legislature and administration which “facilitated pro-labor interest in making significant changes,” the report states.

That reform included a 7.5 percent increase in disability payments for injured workers as well as increases in a wage differential cap, burial benefits and death benefits.

And, between 2005 and 2010, Illinois work comp insurance premium rates increased by nearly 17 percent, while average rates across the country have declined 19 percent.

The system was reformed again in 2011, but fell short of making the necessary changes to truly improve the program, the Illinois Chamber suggests, in that it failed to correct the low causation standard and didn’t offer Illinois judges any guidance, among other things.

The report also cites statistics from the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services which in 2012 ranked Illinois as having the fourth most expensive work comp insurance rates in the country at $2.83 per $100, a steep rise in costliness from 2004 when it was ranked 23rd in the nation.

In response to the Illinois Chamber's report, the Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Association (WCLA) called it "unfair."

“Whether WCLA members agree or disagree with a particular decision, we all agree that the Justices of the Appellate and Supreme Courts are diligent and hard-working judges, who apply the law impartially to the facts presented to them, and who handle these extra workers’ compensation duties voluntarily in addition to their regular caseload,” said WCLA President Frank A. Sommario in a press release.

“In our view, it is extremely unfair for the Chamber to draw such broad negative conclusions...out of the over 1,000 workers’ compensation cases that were decided by the Appellate and Supreme Courts during the period covered by the Chamber report.”

The 19 cases highlighted in the Illinois Chamber’s report are grouped into categories such as: traveling employees, permanency awards, mental injuries and violation of workplace safety rules, among others.

In Mlynarczyk v Illinois Workers Compensation Commission case, the Third District Appellate Court maintained a “robust interpretation” of what is in the scope of a traveling employee, the report states.

The Will County claimant, who worked for a janitorial service to clean homes and businesses, had finished her morning assignments and returned to her home for a couple of hours before departing for a cleaning job scheduled at 4:30 p.m. However, she slipped on snow and ice while walking to the company-owned minivan in the driveway of her residence. She was awarded workers’ compensation because she was a traveling employee and her mode of transportation was provided by her employer regardless of where the incident happened. The Commission disagreed with the arbitrator’s finding and reversed the benefits award; but the appellate court overturned the dismissal and allowed her to receive compensation.

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce blames the problems in part on the Illinois General Assembly, which it says has failed to lay out a fair, predictable system that benefits employers and employees, as well as having in place a loose interpretation of the workers’ compensation law in favor of injured workers.

Another case example focused on how, without guidance, the state’s torn courts weaken the system.

In Diaz v Illinois Workers Compensation Commission, a three-year veteran police officer in Kane County claimed he developed posttraumatic stress disorder when he was approached by a suspect with a toy gun while responding to a neighborhood disturbance call. The suspect was upset and decided to confront the officer because police cars were blocking his driveway. No shots were fired as the officer eventually realized it was some type of toy gun that looked real.

Several days after the incident, the officer was diagnosed with PSD and was on paid leave for over four months. The arbitrator found that his situation warranted compensation. The Commission reversed that decision 2-1 arguing that the officer failed to prove he sustained compensable injuries. The Second District Appellate Court overturned the Commission’s decision and awarded him compensation. Justice John Turner, however, dissented.

Another case featured out of McHenry County is an example how any situation can be considered worthy of benefits, the report states.

In Circuit City v Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, an employee was injured when he shoved a vending machine with his shoulder and hip to dislodge a bag of chips for a co-worker. Because he stopped working to help his fellow employee, and was not on break, he was awarded benefits for his fractured hip. His award was based on the personal comfort and Good Samaritan doctrine, the report states.

According to the award decision, the snacks in the vending machine were provided by the company and he was attempting to help a co-worker obtain personal comforts. And, he was a Good Samaritan, as he stopped what he was busy doing to the aid of another. The Commission and the Second District Appellate Court approved the arbitrator’s decision to award compensation.

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce is calling for a more restrictive interpretation of the workers’ compensation system in order to restore that state’s economy, reputation and confidence in business.

“Illinois business owners, public officials and voters need to be aware of these key decisions and their deleterious impacts on job creation and retention opportunities,” the report states.

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Organizations in this Story

Illinois General Assembly
301 S 2nd Street
Springfield, IL 62707

Illinois Chamber of Commerce
215 E Adams St
Springfield, IL 62701

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