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

Many news reports in the past have covered the intense pressure Amazon drivers face to meet delivery deadlines during the winter holiday season, and the safety issues those demands trigger. New reports, however, are highlighting a uniquely 2020 problem: a coronavirus-fueled world where every day is like late December for Amazon drivers. These intense demands and pressures on Amazon’s fleet of drivers has the potential to cause injuries – both to the drivers themselves and also to the other drivers Amazon’s drivers encounter on the expressways and roadways. If you’ve been injured in such an accident, you may potentially have a right to pursue compensation from Amazon itself. Be sure to contact an experienced Chicago accident attorney about the facts surrounding your injuries.

One example of this occurred just an hour away from Chicago. On Dec. 22 of last year, a motorcyclist was involved in a terrible accident, according to a nwi.com report. Allegedly, an Amazon driver, L.H. excited a residence and improperly failed to yield to oncoming traffic. Her van collided with T.D.’s motorcycle, critically injuring T.D., according to the lawsuit he filed.

T.D.’s accident happened near the peak of what is typically Amazon’s busiest season for deliveries. The motorcyclist’s lawsuit alleged that Amazon’s “unreasonable and unsafe demands” placed on drivers contributed to the catastrophic crash. According to the nwi.com report, T.D. asserted in his court case that Amazon delivery drivers “often have to deliver upwards of 250 packages a day, which leaves less than two minutes per package during an eight-hour shift.”

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If you or a loved one has a medical condition that will prevent you from working for at least 12 consecutive months, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. If so, you must file an Application with Social Security to begin this process. If you are already a recipient of either SSDI or SSI benefits, your payments, whether by direct deposit or mail will continue. Due to the Corona Virus, all local Social Security offices have been closed to the public since March 17, 2020. This protects Social Security’s employees as well as the population served by Social Security (mostly older individuals and people with underlying medical conditions). While you are no longer able to have in-person interviews to start this process you may apply for benefits on line (Social Security’s preferred method) (ssa.gov/onlineservices/) or you may call your local office. Use Social Security’s Field Office Locator (secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp) and look under additional information. Before you call, check out Social Security’s most frequently asked questions. If you already had an appointment scheduled with your local office, an employee will attempt to contact you at your originally scheduled appointment time. If you choose to file online we realize that it might be difficult to navigate Social Security’s online system. The experienced attorneys and staff at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca can help you navigate this and answer your questions.

If you have already filed an Application for Benefits, Social Security will still issue a written decision and mail it to you. If you are denied you may appeal this decision online. There are certain deadlines for doing so that are indicated in the decision. If you do not file your appeal timely, you will have to start the process over again.

Not only have the Field Offices been closed but DDS (Disability Determination Services) is working on only a limited basis and Social Security has suspended all in-person hearings. Administrative Law Judges are now conducting hearings by telephone. Any previously scheduled hearing will now be conducted by telephone for the foreseeable future. Claimants may agree to have telephonic hearings or they may choose to wait until they can have an in-person hearing. Social Security will contact you to find out which you prefer. Telephone hearings are not mandatory. If you ask that your hearing be postponed you will be sent a notice advising you of the new date, time and location of your hearing. While finally having a (phone) hearing after waiting for so long might seem like a good thing, there may be reasons on a case by case basis to delay such hearings. For instance, it is difficult to judge a Claimant’s credibility over the phone. Also, will a judge likely be as empathetic if he/she cannot actually observe the Claimant throughout the hearing? These are difficult decisions to make. The attorneys at Katz, Friedman can aide you in deciding which option might be best in your situation.

Unfortunately, given the current health crisis due to Covid-19/Coronavirus, many companies and employers are facing financial difficulties. Injured workers are understandably concerned about what will happen to their claims if their employers go out of business. Don’t panic, but best to get help. The good news is that a workers’ compensation claim typically survives whether the employer is actively operating its business or not.

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act requires that employers carry workers’ compensation insurance unless it is allowed to self-insure. Most small and midsized employers, and many large employers, do carry workers’ compensation insurance. When an insured employer goes out of business, the insurance carrier typically remains liable for coverage of the workers’ compensation claim. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act permits us to file the claim directly against the Insurance Company in these situations. There may be delays in benefits, court hearings and settlements due to bankruptcy court “stay” orders on all litigation. However, many injured workers’ claims can be kept on course under most circumstances, with the insurance company paying for medical treatment and disability benefits.

If the workers’ compensation insurance company were to go out of business, then the claim typically would be handled by the Illinois Guarantee Fund. When this happens, the claim would still be active, but would be paid by the Illinois Guarantee Fund instead of the original insurance company. This is not a desirable situation as the Illinois Guarantee Fund is not always fully funding the settlement claims.

The recent nationwide surge in COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is a disturbing reminder that our nation’s public health crisis is far from over.  Despite a push to re-open, many states are now reversing course and locking back down in an effort to further curb a spread that is growing wildly out of control.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House advisor on Coronavirus, testified before Congress that daily infections could increase to 100,000 unless states take further action to get the surge of cases under control.[i]

Illinois has thus far managed to keep Coronavirus infections under control, and has dropped to sixth in the US for total number of COVID cases.[ii]  Some nursing homes are even beginning to allow visitors – such as Hillcrest Nursing Center in Round Lake, or Citadel of Wilmette.  The Illinois Department of Public Health has even created a website that allows individuals to track county-level COVID-19 data.[iii]  Fortunately, most counties and communities across the state – from Chicago, to East St. Louis, to Peoria, to Springfield are seeing stable COVID-19 metrics.

However, this does not mean that Illinoisans are entirely in the clear.  “As more aspects of the economy open and more person to person interactions take place, there are many more opportunities for the spread of COVID-19.  The virus hasn’t gone away,” said Governor J.B. Pritzker.[iv]  There will be greater opportunity for the virus to spread as the state continues to reopen.  This also means that workers in many front-line sectors of the economy – such as nurses, doctors, other healthcare workers, and restaurant workers – will continue to be at high risk for getting sick at work from COVID.

image000000-227x300Are you new to or simply need a refresher in handling Workers’ Compensation claims for either Petitioners or Respondents?

Great news! Our very own Partner Philip Bareck will be a presenter for The Illinois Institute of Continuing Legal Education’s Annual Work Comp bootcamp program in October.

Please consider attending this informative live webcast on October 2nd. There are just two weeks left to lock in early bird pricing!

Chicago issued an emergency travel order which began at 12:01 a.m. Monday and will remain in effect until further notice.[i]  This means that anyone who has contact with one of fifteen states (listed in the travel order) and enters into Chicago will need to quarantine for 14 days.  This applies to those individuals visiting Chicago or returning to Chicago from visiting those states.

States included in the order are: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.

The rationale for this emergency travel order is that these States are seeing significant increases in COVID-19 cases and infection rates.  Some of these states are reporting record numbers.  What this means for Chicago-area workers that revolve around or relate to those types of industries that deal with interstate travel is that they now might have a higher probability of contracting COVID-19 then they were weeks or months ago.

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.

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