On October 2, 2008, the Commission released its Annual Report of Operations for 2007. Highlights indicate that total claims were again down from previous year totals with a total of 56,685 new cases filed in FY2007 including both filed claims and pro se settlements. Total claims were down approximately 13% from year 2003.
Each year roughly 250,000 work accidents occur in Illinois but only claims involving 3 days or more lost time from work are reportable to the Commission. Approximately 80,000 injuries are reported by employers each year involving 3 days or more lost time. Out of all reportable injuries, approximately 60,000 formal new claims are filed each year either by a formal Application for Benefits or as an original settlement.
In an original settlement, the worker generally does not have an attorney and settles direct with the employer or the insurance carrier. In the year 2007, the report reflects original “pro se" settlements were filed in 9,231 cases representing 16% of all claims. In the remainder of claims, injured worker's hired an attorney 83% of the time with a filed formal Application for Benefits.
Not surprisingly, Chicago and the collar counties with hub cities within an hour or so from Chicago account for approximately 57% of all Illinois work injury claims. Also not surprisingly, back and neck claims accounted for the largest sector of reported injuries totaling 20% of all injuries in 2007.
Thanks to the addition of a third panel of Commissioners deciding cases at the Review level, the amount of formal decisions from the Commission on review from an Arbitration Decision increased by 50%.
Interestingly, when an injured worker files an appeal to the Review level before the Commissioners, benefits were only increased 17% of the time. In appeals by the worker benefits were actually reversed or decreased in 12% of the cases. The great majority of appeals by the worker resulted in no change of the Arbitration Decision in approximately 71% of appeals.
In employer appeals to the Review stage, benefits were also affirmed 70% of the time. However, the employer was successful in obtaining a reduction or a decrease of the Arbitration Decision in 18% of appeals filed by the employer.
The average time that a case takes to proceed from filing an Application for Benefits through the final Decision on Review is approximately 4 1/2 years. That number is deceptively high because in most cases the attorneys and arbitrators are forced to wait until medical care has concluded before an assessment of the permanent nature of the injury, final restrictions or return to work status can be assessed. The actual appeal time on Review during 2007 represented 19 months or approximately 1 1/2 years from the date of the arbitration of decision.
Most litigated cases at the Illinois Commission are settled by and between the attorneys. While total claims disposed of in 2007 totaled 60,681, between settlements, decisions and dismissals, the actual formal Arbitration Decisions were issued in only 3,644 cases representing a ratio of only 4 % of total dispositions.
The take away message for most might be that most parties are best served by representation with an experienced Illinois workers compensation attorney to arrive at an early compromise settlement rather than facing the delays of trial and appeal.
However, it should also be noted that Arbitrators in Illinois perform a crucial key function in supplying sound pretrial recommendations to assist attorneys in resolving areas of disagreement and disputed issues.
Formal decisions of the Arbitrator are appealed in less than 50% of all cases that go to trial so therefore the informal pretrial recommendations by the Arbitrator weigh strongly with the parties. After all, it's not nice to ignore the pretrial recommendations of the person most crucial to deciding the disputed issues of the case.
Chicago Workers Compensation Attorneys -- http://wc-chicago.com -- 10-19-08