Keep the Arbitrators and Return Injured Workers to Work


    Keep our Arbitrators. On behalf of my clients, I emphatically request not getting rid of our highly trained and experienced arbitrators in favor of new appointees.  Commissioners are known to be appointed to short terms coming in. The sitting Governor's office has always held sway over the political bent or philosophical leaning of the Commission by regular appointment of Commissioners. But, our Arbitrators as the initial hearing officers were always civil service employees to prevent political persuasion from constantly effecting their judgment in awarding or denying compensation.

     I would think that all Illinois business interests, unions, employers and the insurance companies would all want predictable results from our experienced hearing officers rather than random erroneous decisions by new hearing officers.  Workers compensation is full of complicated legal exceptions, full of known and accepted doctrines of risks that arise from the employment and full of numerous and unending exceptions.  It takes a fairly long time to learn all the law, the medical terminology and the human anatomy to correctly sift through questions of work trauma or aggravation of a medical condition versus idiopathic pre-existing conditions for a determination of cause and effect in awarding or denying compensation.  Add in some physician CPT billing codes with some ICD-9 hospital codes on the medical bill forms, mixed with some Medical Fee Schedule calculations and add in battles over average weekly wage formulas for correctly deciding weekly benefits and you start to get my drift.  It's a hell of a lot more complicated than it looks.

    Medical causation is a crucial question for all our hearing officers.  So crucial in fact that our legislators have been fighting over the legal definition of causation for Illinois workers comp cases for the last 8 months (and really since 1975).  Illinois business interests and the unions should both make a concerted push to retain most if not all of our arbitrators and Commissioners to guarantee consistent application of the workers compensation law. 

     It must be clearly stated that our arbitrators, the Courts and the Commission have not been the problem on driving up workers compensation costs in the recent past.  I know that certain attorneys have blamed them.  But in tracking these awards for over 25 years, the value of most of these disability awards has actually been falling. Part of that decline in the awards is the result of arthroscopic surgery and our doctors are getting much better surgical outcomes which result in far less disability.  These arbitrators and Commissioners do not need to be replaced in wholesale fashion as the main culprit in increasing the costs of workers compensation claims.  Medical inflation had been a real factor since 1995 in driving up costs but that was capped off in the 2005 reforms.  Recently, Medicare Set Aside funding for Social Security applicants has had a huge impact on driving up the medical costs per claim on our Illinois workers compensation cases for the past 10 years.

      Employers, Medicare and the "Great Recession" should all step up and take a big bow for their outstanding performance on the huge run up in Illinois workers compensation claim costs.  Laying off workers with work related disabilities or medical restrictions in a recession costs big money.  Whenever an employer refuses to take an injured employee back to work within the medical restrictions, the value of the claim jumps dramatically.  That is an understatement.  The claim costs jump by 500%, 1,000% or 2,000% or more.  A lot of Illinois employers were their own worst enemy by not taking their own injured workers back to work.   

     That failure to return an injured employee to work within their restrictions results in large wage differential claims (costly partial pensions for life)  or sometimes full permanent disability benefit pensions for life if that worker can't find any reemployment in any job at all.  If they then happen to apply for Social Security disability, you can add on MSA funding.  That is, Medicare wants all possible future medical expenses for an expected lifetime of benefits to be paid out of the worker’s comp settlement.  Often that's anywhere from an extra $40,000 to $200,000 dollar increase added on top of back surgery claims and on top of the lost earnings portion of the claim.

     If an Illinois employer doesn't want their injured worker back to work within restrictions, how can they expect the insurance company or the worker to find comparable employment or expect other Illinois employers to hire that same worker with those same restrictions at their same former rate of pay.  It doesn't happen.  The worker almost always suffers a large wage loss and a big earnings reduction.  It’s every worker's worst nightmare that the work injury will end their career and end their employment and their ability to support their family.  Let's not be uneducated or ignorant of the consequences.  If an employer blows a worker out of his/her career due to a job injury, expect to pay a lot of money for it.  And, I might add, in this unending recession, don't expect them to find a high paying job elsewhere.

      Illinois employers who routinely treat their injured workers like disposable goods (especially in the construction industry) and throw them to the street when slightly damaged like throwing out the produce in the vegetable isle at the grocery store have directly shot themselves in the foot or shot themselves in both feet for many of the past several years.  It’s almost a cultural habit of retaliation for the worker getting hurt to begin with.  I've heard risk managers say "I'm not taking that !#!*^&!* back to work here" as if anyone in their right mind would ever intentionally want a hip replacement or back fusion to begin with.  It's a very, very bad and very costly habit.

     I‘m going to give away my #1 best kept secret in lowering an employer's worker's compensation costs -- take your injured workers back to work -- early and often -- don't blame the system, don't blame the arbitrators, don't blame your attorneys or don't blame the Commission for the high costs of your workers comp claims when treating injured workers like disposable machinery.  Needless to say, even throwing away serviceable machinery like cars and trucks before their time is costly too.   My plea here is to keep the current experienced Arbitrators and have all our Illinois employers learn to stop habitually throwing away their injured workers.  If a few arbitrators are knowingly replaced for good cause, then so be it.  But keep the rest of the highly trained and experienced good ones and let Illinois employers kill off their most costly workers comp claims by taking injured workers back to work.  Spare those huge lost earnings claims and stop paying those huge Medicare future medical accounts by simply returning injured workers to work.

Illinois workers comp attorney -- http://wc-chicago.com --  7-11-11