Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation

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New Proposed Legislation for Illinois Workers Exposed to Toxic Substance Injuries Now Sits with Governor Pritzker

The Illinois General Assembly has passed Senate Bill 1596, which is now at the hands of the new Governor awaiting passage to become a law. The legislation will allow workers to file a claim for benefits after being exposed to harmful substances (such as asbestos or beryllium) and later develop symptoms of injury or disease after the statutes of limitations has run out. The current 25-year time bar has made it nearly impossible for those workers to seek support thru the Illinois civil courts for assistance in recovery from their occupational diseases. SB 1596 would amend sections of the state’s current Workers’ Compensation Act and the Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act and applies to cases in which the statutes of limitations preclude recovery.

25-Year Timeline for Toxin-Related Employer Liability

Until now, OSHA has never before undone a law that put safety requirements in play to protect workers from known carcinogens. Not once.  

Beryllium, a toxic element and known carcinogen, is at the heart of a fight between construction and shipyard employees and the federal government. On January 9, 2017, less than 2 weeks before President Trump was sworn into office, former President Obama published a law that would require construction and shipyard industries to protect their workers by requiring air quality testing and monitoring employees for beryllium exposure. The law, set to go into effect in June 2019, was stalled on March 21, 2017 by the Trump administration, saying it wanted to delay the law due to concerns over the impact it would have on abrasives manufacturers, shipyard and construction companies. In late June, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) announced it wanted to completely abandon beryllium safety protections.

Beryllium Puts Shipyard and Construction Works at Risk for Disease & Cancer

Nearly 75% of all firefighter deaths in 2016 were cancer-related.

So says data from Firefighter Cancer Support Network, an organization whose aim is to bring comfort, support, and resources to families of firefighters who have received a cancer diagnosis. Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn called the number of firefighter cancer deaths in his city an “epidemic”  in a 2017 interview with NBC News’ Tom Costello.

In his NBC interview, Boston Fire Commissioner Finn recalls a 2002 explosion at a power plant. 200 city firefighters responded to a fire that left them covered with chemicals pouring from the ceiling. A quarter of those who responded have since been diagnosed with a cardiac issue or cancer.

Said to be due to a reorganizing of the executive branch of government, the 5 advisory panels who counsel OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and the Department of Labor on workplace safety and whistleblower protection have been shut down or put on hold. Even OSHA itself is significantly understaffed, said to only have enough inspectors to visit each job site once every 159 years.

The 5 committees, listed below, have not met in at least 9 months. Experts worry that the excuse of reorganizing the executive branch to increase efficiency is a cover for allowing businesses to avoid regulation that might hinder financial success. Further adding to their concerns is the number of committee members who have resigned or whose terms have expired without any attempt by the Labor Secretary, Alexander Acosta, to seek nominees or fill vacant positions. All of the committees’ membership positions will expire by the end of this year (if they haven’t already).

The 5 panels are:

Earlier this week on our blog, we shared facts from the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA) regarding the recent growth boom of Illinois businesses. Governor Rauner would like Illinois residents to believe a lenient workers’ comp program has caused too many claims, resulting in higher insurance premiums paid by employers. Rauner has repeatedly stated that these high premiums are scaring businesses out of Illinois and taking jobs with them. ITLA, citing multiple reputable sources, proved that workers’ comp claims are the lowest they’ve been in years in Illinois and that while premiums are still high, the cause is obviously not because of claims. Instead, ITLA has proven that the cause of high workers’ comp premiums is insurance companies not passing savings onto Illinois businesses.

We would also like to share ITLA’s recent email regarding workers’ comp claims and insurance premiums in Illinois. Particularly striking is the fact that workers’ compensation insurance is the second most profitable line of insurance, proving that there are savings to be passed to businesses, but that insurance companies just aren’t willing to do so.

The following information was taken directly from an email newsletter ITLA shared with our attorneys yesterday. To see more facts and figures on Illinois’ Workers’ Comp program courtesy of ITLA, please click here.

In his February budget address, Governor Rauner discussed the need for reform of Illinois current workers’ comp program, saying that Illinois desperately needed jobs and that companies were being scared off from setting up shop in Illinois because of the current costs of our workers’ comp premiums. According to Rauner, the factor driving high premiums are lawsuits. In reality, Rauner is making a scapegoat out of the legal system when he should be examining the facts and properly putting the blame on insurance companies.

To help separate fact from Rauner’s fictional claims, we are sharing the following information, taken directly from a recent Illinois Trial Lawyers Association fact sheet entitled ‘Illinois is Good for Business.’

Illinois is Good for Business

Last week, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner gave his annual budget address to the state. In the lengthy speech, Governor Rauner spent most of the time addressing the need for job creation in the state and the reasons for businesses leaving. Spending only one sentence of his entire address on workers’ compensation, Rauner stated that high workers’ comp insurance costs are causing higher property taxes and businesses to leave Illinois. What Rauner didn’t say should speak louder than the few words he actually expressed. There’s one type of business that’s flocking to do business in Illinois. Our state has the most workers’ comp insurers of any state in the country. 332 insurers, to be exact.

Illinois a Favorable Environment for Insurers

In Illinois, profits for workers’ comp insurers have been on the rise since 2010. Since 2011, however, the dollar amount they’ve paid out for claims has decreased while their premiums have steadily gone up. So where is all the extra money going? It’s probably not a shock to hear that insurers are pocketing the extra income instead of passing on the savings to businesses in the form of lower premiums. Insurers are also empowered by state legislation that allows them to deny claims and cut back on available benefits.  However, businesses see workers’ comp as a necessary evil. By providing workers’ comp insurance, they are essentially free of responsibility for injuries sustained on the job. Governor Rauner hopes that by cutting back on workers’ comp premiums and payouts, companies will see Illinois as a favorable place to do business and will set up shop in the state.

Serious accidents may strike in almost any setting. However, some of the most common, yet preventable accidents involve workplace injuries, when employees are seriously injured or even killed as a result of incidents that occur when they are on the clock.

The Illinois injury attorneys at our firm understand the significant hardship these situations present not only to the victim, but to their families as well. As an illustration, not only might an accident and resulting injury create significant medical bills, but the injured party is often unable to work afterwards. This, in turn, results in significant financial problems for all of the people who depend ion the injured employee’s paycheck as a primary source of income. Additionally, when a worker is killed, the consequences are even more severe. Beyond the permanent lost wages, surviving family members are forced to deal with the immense pain and suffering that inevitably comes with losing a loved one.

It goes without saying, therefore, that everything reasonable needs be done to prevent workplace injuries.

Workplace injuries are far too common in Illinois, devastating thousands of families each year. In fact, according to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, approximately 250,000 work-related accidents occur each year in Illinois alone. The statistics are overwhelming, and the injuries often overwhelming.

In Chicago workplace injury cases, companies are responsible for ensuring that they provide a safe working environment for their employees. Further, when a company hires a person to perform the job of safeguarding the workplace to keep it safe on behalf of that corporation, the company can potentially be held legally responsible when that person acts negligently; liability falls to the company because it was the duty of that company to either provide proper training and supervision to the person in charge of safety, or hire someone who was better qualified to perform the job. Workplace injury is a serious matter. With so many cases occurring in Illinois each year, is essential for employers to maintain safe working environments, and for workers to follow proper safety procedures. When a worker is injured because of someone else’s negligence, it is important for victims to seek justice, not only to recover damages, but also to motivate employers to change their practices to avoid future litigation.

Nevertheless, despite the responsibility to maintain a safe working environment, the latest survey of U.S. workers by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that workplace environments continue to be blamed for causing or worsening cases of asthma. Indeed, approximately nine percent of adults who have asthma reported having work-related asthma, the CDC discovered from its telephone survey, which included information from 38 states and the District of Columbia. Ultimately this means that more than 1.4 million people across the country have been affected by work-related asthma.

It’s absolutely astounding when it’s put into perspective: a new report from MSNBC revealed that more Americans died as a result of workplace accidents in 2009 alone, than during the entire course of the nine-year Iraq War.

The number of people killed on the job in the United States in 2009 was 4,551. As of May 18, 2011, the number of servicemen killed in combat totaled 4,770. Nevertheless, an estimated 50,0000 people also die each year of work-related diseases such as illnesses suffered from asbestos exposure or chemical inhalation. As one MSNBC reporter put it, “it’s as if a fully loaded Boeing 737-700 crashed every day” for a year.

Seemingly contrary to these statistics, special laws are in place to protect the rights of workers: the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 entitles American workers to “safe and healthful” conditions in their workplaces, and in Illinois, persons or companies responsible for maintaining a safe work environment may be held legally responsible in Chicago workplace injury lawsuits.

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