COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients
Justia Lawyer Rating for David M. Barish

United Continental Holdings (commonly known as UAL) is offering its flight attendants a second voluntary separation program with additional benefits to encourage voluntary separation from the company. As a term of the separation agreement, the flight attendant must waive his or her right to pursue legal claims and release United from liability related to his or her employment with and/or separation from United. Flight attendants are understandably concerned that this may affect their right to file a workers’ compensation claim and collect benefits for work related injuries.

This agreement does carve out some exceptions, including the right of the flight attendant to assert his or her rights under workers’ compensation. Accepting the VSP 2 does not forfeit your workers’ compensation claim! Remember that you have three years from the date of the accident or two years from the last payment of compensation to file any Illinois workers’ compensation claim. You may file the workers’ compensation claim after accepting the VSP 2. However, any flight attendants with currently open workers’ compensation claims should note that accepting this voluntary separation package could still affect his or her claim. For example, electing to accept the voluntary separation could affect the injured workers’ right to weekly temporary total disability benefits in some situations. Further, in some cases, accepting the voluntary separation may adversely affect the amount of permanency benefits (money owed for settlement for disability caused by the injury) which the flight attendant is entitled to receive at the conclusion of medical care or upon reaching maximum medical improvement. We highly recommend that any flight attendants with currently open workers’ compensation claims consult their workers’ compensation attorney before signing this agreement to ensure a complete understanding of the potential ramifications on their workers’ compensation claim, as well as to maximize the value of the workers’ compensation claim.

Further, by signing this agreement, the flight attendant is certifying that he or she had “no unreported on-the-job injuries”. After signing the VSP 2 agreement, the flight attendant who suffered unreported injuries or Occupational disease exposures in the past may jeopardize his or her right to obtain workers’ compensation benefits in the future. Accordingly, if a flight attendant has an un-filed workers’ compensation claim, it will typically be in his or her best interest to report the injury and file the claim with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (not just Sedgwick) prior to signing the voluntary separation agreement to protect his or her right to workers’ compensation benefits. However, every case is different and this blog is not intended to provide legal advice, simply some guidance and food for thought.

We have been fighting  for real clients with real injuries against real employers or real insurance companies. The legal system  is still only partially open with  very few cases being set for trial. Most  justice is virtual and this is  causing real difficulties for our clients.

In the past three months this  lawyer has taken two depositions via Zoom.  Doctors were cross examined on  the computer.  This lawyer  has covered the Rockford status call for  the firm’s cases. This lawyer has had four pretrials where the arbitrator discussed the case with the lawyers and attempted to get the employer to offer more and get us to take less in  an effort to have the parties reach a compromise and avoid trial. These pre trials were done though Webex,  which, like Zoom, allows  parties to see each other and  talk  with each  other even though they are  not  in  the same room. This lawyer has also had four Social Security Disability hearings.  These  were held by telephone as there have been no in person hearings  since  early March.

These virtual hearings are not  perfect but they are much  better than  doing nothing. Any way we can  move our clients cases forward is good.

Many states, including Illinois, are gradually beginning to ease their COVID-19 restrictions.  Chicago is now allowing bars and breweries to open for outdoor service only.  Nevertheless, the existential threat that COVID-19 presents is far from over, and scores of people continue to lose their lives to Coronavirus.  This has been particularly acute amongst residents in long-term care facilities.

According to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, there were a total of 20,550 cases and 3,433 deaths in long-term care facilities throughout Illinois as of June 12.[i]  These cases and deaths, while concentrated in Chicago and Cook County, are dispersed throughout the state, affecting communities like Peoria, East St. Louis, and Springfield.  As of June 13, the Four Fountains facility in St. Clair County had 104 cases and Edwardsville Care Center in Madison County had 94 cases.[ii]  Chicago’s collar counties likewise continue to bear the brunt of the onslaught, with Lake, DuPage, Kane, and Will counties having a concentration of cases.[iii]  According to earlier data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, nursing homes account for approximately 52% of all Coronavirus deaths in the state.[iv]

In recognition of these appalling statistics, a union representing nursing home workers recently organized a candlelight vigil outside the Thompson Center in Chicago, honoring the nursing home victims of COVID-19.[v]  A union news release highlighted the need for holding nursing home owners and administrators accountable for their actions, saying “The appalling levels and scope of fatalities and illnesses among nursing home residents and workers continue to fuel demands for accountability on the Illinois nursing home industry as questions continue to rise about what dramatic steps the industry is taking to mitigate the pandemic and protect residents and staff.”[vi]

It is no secret that workers at Amazon distribution centers work in frequently intolerable conditions, even before the onslaught of COVID-19 (Coronavirus).  Amazon itself released data revealing that injury rates at one of its warehouses were three times the industry average.[1]  An investigation by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting reviewed injury records from 23 of the company’s 110 fulfillment centers showed that the rate of serious injuries was 9.6 per 100 full-time workers – compared to an industry average of 4 per 100.  Workers have described being on their feet for 12 hour shifts, walking a total of 15 to 20 miles in a day.[2]  In at least one warehouse, there have been reports of a vending machine carrying over the counter pain medication for workers.[3]  Workers have complained that every single activity is monitored and tracked, and that they are subject to discipline for such basic activities as using the bathroom or getting a drink of water, and that supervisors receive reports of employees’ bathroom time.[4]  Beyond the Orwellian tracking of employees’ every single activities, Amazon expects its workers to work at a grueling pace, and workers have complained of back sprains, bulging discs, joint inflammation, and chronic pain.[5]


Set against these already disturbing working conditions is the fact that COVID-19 is wreaking havoc in some of Amazon’s warehouses.  As of May 21, at least 8 Amazon workers nationwide had tragically passed away from COVID-19, including one in Waukegan, Illinois.[6]  Amazon has not disclosed how many workers have tested positive.[7]  In fact, a Vice President at Amazon Web Services resigned his position after he alleged that the company was “firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of COVID-19.”[8]  Meanwhile, despite these deplorable working conditions that COVID-19 has worsened, Amazon has seen a surge in business due to people staying at home; this means that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos could be a trillionaire by 2026.[9]

Amazon workers getting hurt and sick at work is not a remote or faraway problem – Amazon has several facilities throughout Illinois and especially in Chicagoland – such as in Joliet, Edwardsville, Wood Dale, Naperville, Monee, and others.  These workers are friends, family, neighbors, who deserve to have a safe and healthy place to work, where they are not treated like machines and are not at risk for contracting a deadly disease.

As we continue to wage the fight against COVID-19, the news has regrettably been full of numerous instances of doctors and nurses tragically losing their fight to Coronavirus after getting sick at work. A nurse who worked at the University of Illinois Hospital for more than ten years passed away from COVID, leaving a husband and two children1. A nurse who worked at Community First Medical Center in Chicago passed away after initially testing negative and then having her symptoms return and worsen2. A 35 year-old nurse at Meadowbrook Manor in Bolingbrook lost her battle with the virus, leaving behind a husband and three young children3. With more than 2,500 healthcare workers infected across the state, there is a likelihood that there will be additional tragedies. COVID does not limit itself to a particular geography, and these tragedies can affect any healthcare worker across the state – whether they are in Springfield, Peoria, Bloomington, East St. Louis, Waukegan, Rockford, Aurora, or Chicago.

The survivors of healthcare workers who lose a loved one from workplace exposure can fight back. Through the Illinois Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act and the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, there are several benefits to the families and survivors of workers who lose their lives due to work accidents or occupational diseases. At a base level, the Act provides a burial benefit of $8,0004. The Act also provides a survivor’s benefit that consists of two-thirds of the employee’s gross average weekly wage during the 52 weeks preceding their injury, subject to minimum and maximum limits. Payment of these benefits is the lesser of 25 years or $500,0005.

The main beneficiaries of the survivors’ benefit are children under the age of 18 and the employee’s spouse. If the employee’s children are enrolled as a full time student in an accredited educational institution, payments shall continue until the child reaches age 256. If an employee’s spouse remarries and there are eligible children at the time of the remarriage, benefits shall continue 7. If an employee had no children and the employee’s spouse remarries, the surviving spouse shall be paid a final lump sum equal to two years of compensation benefits8.

You have a lot of things that will inevitably worry you after you’ve suffered an injury at work. You may be worried about losing income. You may be worried about finding the right doctor to get the diagnosis you need. You may be worried about collecting all the paperwork you need for a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. One thing that you should not have to be worried about – but too many workers do face – is retaliation by your employer. If your employer does that, it may have violated the law and the retaliation itself may be a basis upon which you can recover compensation. An experienced Chicago workers’ compensation attorney can help you look at your situation and identify all of the legal ways that you might be able to obtain much-needed compensation.

An accident at a milk processing plant here in the greater Chicago area (and its aftermath) is an example of that kind of retaliation, and it resulted in a sizable damages award, according to a Northwest Herald report. R.J., a worker at the plant, suffered a neck injury in the fall of 2009. The employer’s doctor placed R.J. on lifting, pushing and pulling restrictions. R.J. continued on light duty until he took medical leave in early 2011 after losing strength in his left arm. R.J. did not work at the plant again. He was terminated in early 2016.

An employer can impermissibly retaliate against an employee injured on the job in many ways. For example, if you are injured in a workplace accident, you are entitled to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits and to do so free from punishment by your employer. If your employer takes adverse action against you for filing for workers’ compensation benefits, and you can prove that your workers’ comp claim triggered that action, then you can recover damages for retaliation.

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Out of an over-abundance of caution during this pandemic, the government and many health care facilities across Chicago have halted many elective surgical procedures. Presumably, this was done to help prevent hospitals from being over-stressed with too many patients and not enough resources. Nationally, one in five doctors have had their pay cut since the novel Coronavirus crisis began.(Source via Business Insider) Some have even been laid off. The first hit to the health care industry was for elective and outpatient surgeries, which is not only hurting the orthopedic, pain management, and gastroenterology fields, but other fields like oncology and vascular surgery are seeing procedures pushed back. The next group of doctors that have been hit hard due to the pandemic is internal medicine. With so many fewer patients afraid to go to a doctor’s office, the only way internal medicine doctors have been able to survive is to use different forms of telemedicine, especially to follow up and monitor patients who have Covid-19 symptoms. (read more on CNBC) The next wave of people to be harmed by the slowdown is the medical staff. Without elective procedures, nurses, CNA’s, medical assistants, physician assistants, and various other health care workers are experiencing the same problems. It is obvious to most people that these health care cut-backs are going to cause another major hit to the national economy. (read more at The Washington Post)

Like many frontline workers in Illinois, most doctors simply ask for the basic personal protective equipment so that they can safety do their job. It is no wonder that they also ask that their staff members get the same. In reality, local hospitals have fallen short, which has gotten numerous doctors, nurses, and staff members sick with Covid-19. Health care workers contracting this disease due to their job duties have the right to file a workers’ compensation claim in Chicago as well as any other part of Illinois. It is clear that Chicago has been the hardest hit city in the state when it comes to Covid-19. This means that as patients fill hospital and nursing home beds, the number of sick health care workers also increases. The first important thing that must be remembered in any workers’ compensation case involving a health care worker is that we do not have to prove that the employer was at fault. Illinois has a no fault workers compensation system. This makes it easier for an employee to recover. The second important thing that must be remembered in any case involving a sick or injured health care worker is that Illinois has a rebuttable presumption for any Covid-19 case for an essential worker. This means that a health care worker who contracts Covid-19 is presumed to have fallen ill on the job. (source via Chicago Tribune) While an employer can still fight a claim like they usually do when they get in touch with their insurance carrier, having an evidentiary presumption gives health care workers an advantage in recovering benefits like lost and future wages, medical bills, and an award or settlement that is proportionate to a person’s average weekly wage. What’s more, a family of a deceased worker can recover benefits.

Undoubtedly, the insurance industry is fearful that doctors and nurses will exercise their rights and file claims since there will be permanent impairment to lung, kidney, liver, and cardiac function with mild cases just like there were with the original SARS outbreak in 2003-2004. The reason that the insurance industry is so concerned about this legal development has to do with the possibility that doctors and nurses will cost the insurance industry billions by filing claims since their wage loss is so significant. However, given that insurance companies will deceive, dupe, and trick injured individuals into taking low settlements or making a person believe that they have no claim, it is expected that the health care industry will make a record number of workers compensation claims in 2020. As we have for over 60 years, Katz Friedman is investigating injuries caused on the job and will fight to help obtain full, fair, and proper compensation for those workers as it is their right under the laws of our state. You may call us at anytime at our toll free number, 1-800-444-1525 or simply click on “Contact” above. We answer our telephone 24 hours a day. When making decisions regarding a injuries and death from Covid-related injuries, it is wise to consult an attorney to protect your interests because it is clear that the employer already has their lawyers working on this issue to defeat your claim.

The short answer to these questions is: “Yes, you can still possibly file a workers’ compensation.” It will be highly dependent on the facts of that specific case, but you can still file a claim if you met the criteria. This is where an experienced attorney can help and guide you with your possible claims. Understanding a few important provisions of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act is vital to preserving your rights if you’ve been laid off or furloughed because of Covid-19. Or, even if you have an older claim that you did not want to pursue at the time but now want to see if you are still entitled to compensation.

How long do I have to file a claim?

Even if you are no longer working for your employer, you are legally entitled to file a workers’ compensation claim within three (3) years from the date of the injury/accident, or two (2) years from the date of last compensation received because of the injury, whichever is longer. 820 ILCS 305/6(d) Illinois General Assembly. Outside of these time periods, you may find yourself barred from receiving any compensation for that work accident and injury. However, it is important to understand that just because you may still have the ability to file a workers’ compensation claim, there is no guarantee you will be entitled to benefits if you do not take the proper steps in preserving your case.

Under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, workers usually encounter two types of work injuries in most circumstances: 1) injuries which resulted from a sudden event or accident, which is oftentimes termed an “acute” injury; and 2) repetitive trauma injuries which result from the cumulative stress developed over time, usually the result of doing the same activity over and over.

There are a lot of repetitive work injuries an employee can encounter: carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, De Quervain’s, thoracic outlet syndrome, intersection syndrome, medial epicondylitis (golfer’s elbow), lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), trigger finger, radial tunnel syndrome, ulnar tunnel syndrome, etc.

Katz Friedman has represented thousands of repetitive trauma cases over the years involving these types of injuries. As a result of that experience, there are some important considerations to understand which can significantly improve your chances of establishing a successful repetitive trauma claim.

When a family decides to admit their loved one into a nursing home, it is done with trust that their loved one will receive the best care, treatment, and supervision. This level of understanding and trust come about because nursing homes supervise and coordinate the care and treatment with extensive staff to give an elderly person independence that they would not otherwise have at home along with the best outcome for their individual health. Unfortunately, many nursing homes provide understaffed facilities that commonly lead to mismanaged treatment. Most times, elder neglect leading to sickness and death are the fault of the management at the nursing home and not the fault of the staff. Before the Coronavirus struck our communities, the usual medical errors at nursing homes included over and under medicating persons, understaffing, and inadequate training. As nursing home deaths continue to rise, many families are wondering if the loss of their loved one was preventable. In most cases, it is believed that the nursing home not only could have prevented the death, but they also acted negligently by law and need to be held responsible for the loss and harm caused. Various nursing homes around the state have had massive outbreaks leading to almost half of Illinois death cases originating at the very facilities designed to protect their residents. The list of nursing homes across Chicago, Cicero, Niles, Skokie, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Des Plaines, Bolingbrook, Norrdige, and Park Ridge. (Source Chicago Tribune) Chicago nursing home negligence lawyers believe that the reason for many of these deaths is a system error from the top down at the nursing home.

Perhaps the most common type of nursing home neglect comes from improper hygiene. While normally this would involve simply checking up on a loved one or simply making sure that a person was adequately bathed, the Coronavirus is exposing a level of unhygienic practices that are simply unacceptable, including failing to make sure that residences are kept safe from sick visitors and failing to screen the staff who have Covid symptoms. This is not only something that is easy to do, it is crucial to account for when taking care of elderly people since the Coronavirus will lie dormant, without any symptoms, for days and even 1-2 weeks. Once symptoms start to show, it may be too late for anyone in contact with a sick person. (Source Chicago Suntimes) Another common problem at nursing homes is that nursing home owners and corporations cut costs and have left their staff without adequate personal protective equipment, which not only exposes the staff to Coronavirus, but it spreads the virus to many other patients. For this reason, nurses and CNA’s are filing workers compensation claims with Chicago workers’ compensation lawyers for disability benefits and awards or settlements. Unlike workers’ compensation claims, a lawsuit against a nursing home that put profits over people allows for even further damages to compensate loved ones, including funeral expenses and loss of society and companionship.

A wrongful death claim may be made against a nursing home when your loved one’s passing was the result of the business’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional wrongdoing. Were it not for the nursing home owner’s systematic neglect, your loved one would not have died. You may have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit if you were the elderly individual’s spouse, child, or parent. The compensation often is divided among a spouse and children. If there is no surviving spouse, each child can bring a wrongful death claim. Before a family can move on from the loss caused by negligence or abuse, the usually first want to obtain answers and compensation. Every family member has the right to seek compensation and every family member has the right to get legal advice about a wrongful death or survival claim. If there is some evidence that the nursing home breached its duty of care toward your family member, Katz Friedman is prepared to help you hold the facility responsible. You may call us at anytime at our toll free number, 1-800-444-1525. We answer our telephone 24 hours a day. Chicago wrongful death lawyers at Katz Friedman are currently investigating Covid-19 cases on behalf of families. When making decisions regarding a injuries and death from Covid-related negligence at a nursing home, it is wise to consult an attorney to protect your interests because it is clear that the nursing homes already have their lawyers working on this issue to defeat your claim and help the nursing home get away with their system failure. If you or someone you know wants to investigate a nursing home for a death related to COVID-19, the attorneys and staff of Katz Friedman are here to help with obtaining proper compensation.

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