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

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Corrections officers protect us everyday by maintaining order in the jails and prisons across Illinois. They keep some of the most violent and dangerous criminals from harming the public. While various physical injuries have been a common duty related risk for Corrections Officers keeping offenders from harming themselves, other inmates, and law enforcement personnel, the growing number of Corrections Officers sick on the job from Covid-19 poses an even greater risk of harm to this crucial part of our workforce. Illinois prisons and larger County Jails, including Cook County, Dupage County, Lake County, Will County, Kane County, McHenry County, Winnebago County, LaSalle County, Peoria County, Tazewell County, McLean County, Champaign County, and Sangamon County are dealing with the threat of COVID-19 exposure. Cook County Jail has been identified as a top U.S. Hot Spot for the coronavirus, according to data compiled by The New York Times. (Source) Corrections Officers are becoming severely sick from COVID-19, many have died, and unfortunately many will continue to die over the course of this year.

Illinois Workers’ Compensation Law provides that employers are responsible to pay the same benefits for a Corrections Officer’s work injury as well as when a Corrections Officer contracts the novel corona virus. These benefits include weekly workers’ compensation pay when disabled from work, payment of medical expenses, and settlements for permanent partial disability. Some employers and their insurance companies will attempt to deny Corrections Officers’ COVID-19 claims contending that Coronavirus exposures are common to the general public. Clearly, many Corrections Officers will be exposed to COVID-19 to a greater extent than the general public if the virus is infecting the jail population. For instance, as the virus grows at a rapid rate among many Chicago-area jails, the increase in the number of exposed Corrections Officers and Sheriff’s Deputies is substantially certain. Similar rates of infection are also being seen among police officers and Sheriff officers. It is clear that this risk is higher than the general public and much higher than most professions outside of health care. Fortunately for those injured by falling ill from their job duties, the Workers’ Compensation laws in Illinois cover conditions made worse by a work injury. Just like with pre-existing conditions in health care coverage, it is expected that insurance companies and their lawyers will claim that a person’s condition was not worsened by Covid despite the evidence to the contrary. If it weren’t for these types of underhanded tactics, many injured people wouldn’t need to hire experienced workers compensation attorneys around Chicago and across Illinois. Some Corrections Officers will have mild symptoms from the Coronavirus, but others may have serious and permanent COVID-19 injuries including lung, kidney, liver, and heart damage. The permanent problems experienced with damage to vital organs not only diminishes the quality of life and life expectancy itself, but this type of organ damage will impact a person’s ability to carry out their jobs and provide for their families. What’s more, Covid will cause an aggravation of of conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and asthma, which can cause other long-term, detrimental health problems and even death years after this pandemic ends.

Governor J.B. Pritzker has called upon the IL Workers’ Compensation Commission to address the concerns for legal protection for essential workers. On April 13, 2020, the IL Workers’ Compensation Commission filed an Emergency Rule to deal with evidentiary issues in cases involving essential workers infected with COVID-19. (Click here for more information) . What this rule means is that Corrections Officers along with all members of Illinois law enforcement, who are considered essential workers like nurses and doctors, will have a somewhat easier time of proving that they contracted the Coronavirus as a consequence of an exposure to the virus in the work place. This rebuttable presumption means that it is presumed that a Corrections Officer with a positive Covid test was hurt at work and it puts pressure on the employer to prove that the illness was caused somewhere else. This presumption helps workers’ compensation attorneys like us prove your claim for benefits under the IL Workers’ Compensation Act was the result of prison or jail exposure to the virus and not simply a disease that is common to the general public. It is expected that many Covid work injury cases will be fought intensely by defense attorneys whose primary interest is saving the employer as much money as possible. Our job as the injured worker’s attorney is to maximize all benefits provided by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. We are on your side.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to strain hospitals and stretch already thin staffing resources, Governor Pritzker has asked retired healthcare workers to aid in the fight against the Coronavirus. “We’re in the middle of a battle, and we need reinforcements,” Pritzker stated during a press conference. (source)

Among those answering this call are respiratory therapists. (source) Along with nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel, respiratory therapists are on the front line of this pandemic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, chief among the responsibilities of respiratory therapists are performing diagnostic tests – such as measuring lung capacity – administering chest physiotherapy, nebulizer treatments, and aerosolized medications, performing intubations and connecting patients to ventilators.(source) In the words of one doctor, respiratory therapists “serve as the glue that brings everything together when doctors manage patients with respiratory illnesses.”(source) This expertise makes respiratory care practitioners especially essential during this current crisis because they are operating the ventilators that are keeping Coronavirus patients alive. Operating ventilators is an intensive process, requiring significant time in the proximity of critically ill patients, creating a higher risk of exposure.

For those retired therapists returning to the work force in the midst of this pandemic, it can be a particularly worrisome time. Many of those answering the call and returning to the front line after years of retirement may be at a higher risk because they may fall into one or more high risk categories. (source) Additionally, while the public has become well aware of the critical need for ventilators, many may not understand the intubation process required to connect a patient to one. This process involves exceptionally close contact with an ill patient, including lifting the patient’s chin or jaw to open their airway, using a laryngoscope to view a patient’s airway, inserting an endotracheal tube into their trachea, and taping the tube to their face. Such close contact can expose respiratory therapists and other medical personnel involved to patient’s airways, aerosolized droplets, condensate from tubing, and other risks associated with tending to critically ill patients.

As scientific modeling shows a peak and flattening of the curve by mid-April, the time that it will take for the leveling out and decline will probably last until early May. That means that the exposure that medical professionals working at places like UIC, University of Chicago, Advocate, Rush, Amita, and Northwestern have had to this disease will only worsen until the cases decline substantially from where they are now. (source via NPR) This likely means that those employed in healthcare will see an even greater percentage of work injuries due to Covid-19 than many scientists first predicted. Although people in Illinois hear the news about how the efforts to slow the novel Coronavirus down are working, they are usually not aware of that the same horror stories that are seen in New York City are happening in Chicago and across Illinois. In fact, hospitals in Chicago are running short of personal protective equipment necessary for health care workers to maintain body substance isolation from infected patients. Rather than provide the necessary equipment, hospitals are putting their employees at risk of falling ill with Covid-19 by failing to provide enough masks, gowns, and face shields. Many hospitals are telling nurses to re-use masks and gowns. Without this equipment, hospital management is essentially putting their nurses, nurse’s aides, nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, physician’s assistants, and doctors in harm’s way.

Fortunately for healthcare professionals, the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission issued an emergency rule deeming essential workers including but not limited to EMT’s/ paramedics, CNA’s, RN’s, CNP’s, PA’s, technicians, therapists, and doctors as presumed to have contracted Covid-19 at work if they get a positive test. (source via WBEZ) The impact of this rule is groundbreaking to say the least because it puts pressure on an hospital to try to show how their employee did not contract Covid-19 on the job. Thus, when a sick healthcare worker can show that they contracted Covid-19 and were working for a health care provider, they will have an easier time succeeding on their case. That being said, insurance companies will not second-guess fighting any Covid-19 work comp claim that they can. Not only is it in the nature of insurance companies to fight legitimate claims, insurance companies rarely see the negative perception in instances where they try to take advantage of sick and injured people. Legal scholars predict that despite this recent rule benefiting all sick healthcare workers, insurance companies intend to fight the cases brought by healthcare workers as the court system starts to return to normal.

It is anticipated that insurance companies and their lawyers will try to minimize the suffering, harm, and damage done to healthcare workers by claiming that they have little to no permanency and thus deserve little to no award. While this may sound shameful on many levels, it also disregards the science that is out there related to the harmful long-term effects of those who survived SARS-CoV-1 and the data that is coming out from the early survivors of SARS-CoV-2. If the recent outbreak has just slightly similar long-term effects as the first outbreak, it is highly likely that our health care system will become weakened for decades. The infections from Covid are leaving various physical and mental health damages. Primarily, we know the lung scarring and diminished lung capacity is the most concerning part of the body that is being widely impacted. Furthermore, it is thought that besides lung issues, infected persons can suffer from bone and joint issues. In particular, we may see necrosis of the hip. (source via Nature) What is also alarming is that along with decreased lung function, diminished cardiac function is also likely. Many people dying of Covid-19 are dying from cardiac arrest and heart failure. Heart disease from Covid-19 is unfortunately expected to become rampant. (source via Nature) Even for those healthcare workers who have milder cases, they can expect to see themselves and many of their colleagues develop impaired endurance and chronic fatigue. (sources via National Center for Biotechnology and Journale of American Medical Association Network)

The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus has left us all in unprecedented and uncertain times. On March 20, Governor J.B. Pritzker issued a statewide “shelter-in-place” order which requires all non-essential businesses to close and all non-essential employees to stay home. However, employees in many of the “essential businesses” are exempt from that order including nurses, hospital employees and first responders. Unfortunately, such medical professionals are the ones most at risk of contracting the virus while they continue to work and treat those suffering from COVID-19. Understandably, those individuals must have questions and concerns about what happens if they contract the virus through their work.

Under the Illinois Workers Compensation and Occupational Disease Acts, employees who suffer from an accident/injury or illness which “arises out of” and “in the course of” their employment are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Contracting conditions, such as COVID-19, while performing your nursing/medical duties satisfies those requirements and should entitle nurses and medical professionals to the benefits under the law. These benefits include full payment of your medical bills, weekly workers’ compensation pay equal to 2/3 of your weekly pay and potentially a permanency recovery. There is a 3 day waiting period before receiving the weekly pay but if you are off 14 or more days the waiting period is waived and you are entitled to workers’ compensation pay from day one. You must establish, more likely than not, that you contracted the condition from work as opposed to at home (or some other location outside of work). Your entitlement to benefits is determined on a case-by-case basis. However, employees in the medical field such as nurses, medical professionals, as well as first responders who, by the very nature of their employment, are at a higher risk of exposure than the general public should still complete an accident report/incident if they develop symptomology and seek treatment. Obtaining the necessary paperwork with the diagnosis, work ability and treatment plan is important.

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Laws were enacted to protect employees, such as nurses, medical professionals and first responders, who are trained and employed to protect society. These laws not only apply to you, but are necessary for you to utilize in order to get you back healthy and able so you can continue to help others. We need these workers’ compensation laws now more than ever during these uncertain times.

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission announced a suspension of business to limit the effect of the COVID-19 virus. This suspension of operations is in effect until 3/31/2020 when the situation will be re-evaluated. Here is the link to the Commission’s announcement:  ⁣

http://www.iwcc.il.gov/ ⁣

Unfortunately, no hearings nor docket calls will take place during this period.  In order to comply with the order of Governor Pritzker, the law firm will not be traveling to the union halls for interviewing at least through the end of March.  However, your Katz Friedman lawyers are working hard for you and remain available to take telephone calls.  Our office is open with a reduced non-lawyer staff to insure we make progress on each and every case.⁣

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“They had contracts to provide content or services, did that, and weren’t paid.”

– Joshua File, Katz Friedman Attorney

This week Katz Friedman Law office filed a lawsuit for a group of 38 Ebony magazine freelancers in Cook County Circuit Court, claiming they are collectively owed more than $70,000 for their work.

United Airlines (UAL) employees are talking and social media chat rooms are buzzing about the potential change in workers’ compensation administrators. For about 20 years Gallagher Bassett has been administrating the claims for benefits due to occupational injuries also known as “occupationals”, “OJI” or workers’ compensation injuries. Typically, an administrator provides claims adjustment services that include the investigation and processing of injury claims and payment of weekly workers’ compensation income benefits known as temporary total disability (TTD) and authorization for medical procedures and payment of medical bills. The administrator may also, at times, negotiate settlements after the injured worker has been released from doctor’s care.

There does not appear to have been a formal notice or press release confirming that United Airlines is replacing Gallagher Bassett. There has been speculation that this may occur October 1, 2017 and that the new claims administrator will be Sedgwick Claims Management Services.

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