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

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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.

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]

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.

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.

Americans are anxious to get back to work. Regardless of political affiliation and medical opinions, we all want to get back to restaurants, go to live performances, shop in stores, assemble parts at factories, and get children back in schools.

We are concerned with the safety of workers. We have been writing about essential workers who have an increased risk of exposure to Covid-19. They have not been staying at home. They are in squad cars, hospitals, restaurants, trucks and offices. It is hard for these workers due to the virus and the need to stay socially distanced and protected from other workers and the public. It is somewhat easier as there are less people out of their homes. Traffic volume is lower less people are ordering from restaurants, there are less people in offices. We are aware that some healthcare workers have been dealing with heavy volumes of potentially sick people. This can take place at smaller hospitals or larger systems such as Advocate, Aurora, Resurrection or Northshore.

What will happen when more people are working? Will the newly opened businesses abide by social distancing? Will they have personal protective equipment for their employees? Will they have thought through how people will work and how they will interact with the public and how they will get their jobs done in a reasonably safe manner? We hope so.

Those who are putting themselves on the front lines of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic are at a high risk of contracting the illness themselves. As the crisis continues, first responders, doctors, and nurses are working tirelessly to help others, while they themselves risk getting sick at work.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”), approximately 9,300 healthcare workers have contracted COVID-19, and of those, 27 have tragically lost their lives.1

As many as 5% of those infected required intensive care.2 Nevertheless, the CDC acknowledges that their data is likely a substantial undercount3. Local data can be even more disturbing. In Ohio, for example, 20% of the state’s positive tests have been from healthcare workers4. In Detroit, more than 700 workers from the Henry Ford Health System have tested positive5. In Massachusetts, more than 160 employees of the Berkshire Medical Center have been quarantined6. Here in Illinois, 68 employees – 30 of whom are nurses – tested positive at the University of Illinois Health System as of the beginning of April7. Many more healthcare workers are under home surveillance, according to the Illinois Nurses Association8. As of April 22, 2,500 Illinois healthcare workers had contracted COVID and 8 had lost their battle with the virus9.

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