COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients

Articles Posted in COVID19

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.

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.

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.

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.

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