Sharon Brooks Hodge Mar. 31, 2016, 8:07am


An industry lobbying group that wants to make Illinois more business-friendly has met with key legislators in an effort to re-open discussion about workers’ compensation reform.

Earlier this month, Southwestern Illinois Employer’s Association (SIEA) held separate meetings with Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs), SIEA executive director Mike Walters told the Record.

“We explained the problems businesses are having because of workers’ compensation," Walters said. "There are members of our association who are paying three to five times more than businesses in surrounding states. Workers’ compensation is part of the bottom line, and with our expense so high it makes Illinois not a very business-friendly state.

“This state has lost more than a half million jobs over the last 12 years; some people would say it’s as many as a million. How are we going to bring them back?”

The median rate of $2.35 per $100 of payroll gives Illinois the seventh highest average workers’ compensation premium rate in the country, according to the 2014 Oregon Workers’ Compensation Premium Ranking Study. The national median rate is $1.85 per $100 of payroll. In 2010, Illinois had the third highest average premium rate.

The rates apply to all employers, not just those with a large number of accidents or injury claims, Walters said, and some companies affiliated with the SIEA have gone decades without injuries and are still subject to the high premiums.

Although workers' comp rates have dropped in recent years, some employers contend reform still is needed.

“Addressing causation would have more impact than rate reduction,” Walters said.

In Illinois, workers’ compensation is a no-fault system. To recover on a workers’ compensation claim, the employee bears the burden of showing that injuries were sustained out of and in the course of employment. Currently, if employment is related at all to the injury, no matter how minor, the employee can be compensated for that injury. If a work injury aggravates or accelerates a pre-existing condition even slightly, the employer is fully liable for the workers’ compensation claim.

The SIEA has not drafted specific changes to the causation component of the state’s workers’ comp law, but a proposal that legislators considered in 2015 sought to raise the causation standard from an “any cause” standard to a “major contributing cause” standard. Under such a scenario, the accident at work must be more than 50 percent responsible for the injury compared to all other causes.

“The only people who would be affected by reforming causation are people who shouldn’t be getting workers’ compensation anyway,” Walters said.

Previous reform efforts have languished in legislative committee, which is why the SIEA is talking with leadership from both political parties.

“We are trying to find common ground,” Walters said. “Both Democrats and Republicans agree that causation is an issue. The problem is what to do about it.”

According to Walters, the most vocal opposition to reform comes from trial lawyers, and to some extent unions.

“That’s why we are also working with a coalition of other lobbyists," he said. "We understand that we need a compromise. But first we need to get them to the table."

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