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For many people in the U.S. Labor Day means the unofficial “last” day of summer, the start of the new school year and the start of fall sports. For Katz Friedman it means so much more and entails many of the principles on which our firm was founded.

Labor Day is a federal holiday in the United States celebrated on the first Monday in September to honor and recognize the American labor movement and the works and contributions of laborers to the development and achievements of the United States. Having the first Monday in September be a day off from work has been significant for American workers since the late 1800s. At the peak of the industrial revolution, working conditions in factories, mills, mines and most other industries were very unsafe. The average worker, many of whom were young school aged children, were often required to work 12 hours a day, six days a week, in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces. Workers began holding strikes and rallies that called for shorter workdays and better conditions. During this time period most of the labor unions as we know of them today were born, and memberships in unions were at their peak in the period leading up to the late 1960s.

In 1953, when labor union memberships were at an all-time high, Harold Katz represented the United Auto Workers, and Irving Friedman was a trial Attorney for the National Labor Relations review board. Although the two labor lawyers met as opposition, they inevitably joined forces and went on to have a 50+ year partnership to fight for economic justice for workers across Illinois.

Katz Friedman helped a UAW member fight Caterpillar at a hearing for a Workers’ Compensation claim regarding a repetitive work injury that caused carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Arbitrator awarded her full benefits and an injury settlement after a full hearing.

The assembly line worker has been employed with Caterpillar in Decatur for over 10 years. During that time, she worked on multiple lines and assembled large mining trucks using all sorts of air guns, pneumatic, torque, and hand tools. As a result of her repetitive work, she developed carpal tunnel and eventually needed a carpal tunnel release surgery.

Caterpillar denied her Workers’ Compensation claim indicating that her work duties were not repetitive or forceful enough to cause her conditions. They attempted to have their plant physician do a shop walk and document her work duties to confirm their denial that her work was not repetitive or forceful. Caterpillar also obtained a medical evaluation from a hired doctor to indicate her carpal tunnel was not work-related but was due “…to the fact that she is a middle-aged female with a history of smoking” and determined it was idiopathic. This medical term states that the condition just happened “spontaneously,” so it is a convenient way for employers, like Caterpillar, to attempt to evade liability for injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome.

If you have an injury at work, you have rights under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation law: the right to pick your own doctors, the right to have your employer pay all of the medical bills (without any co-pays), the right to be paid weekly benefits if you are unable to work, and the right to pursue a settlement once you have finished medical treatment. But what if the problem is considered a pre-existing condition? In Illinois, any pre-existing condition which is aggravated or made worse by an injury is covered under workers’ compensation. As the Illinois Supreme Court described, “When workers’ physical structures, diseased or not, give way under the stress of their usual tasks, the law views it as an accident arising out of and in the course of employment.” Translated into English, this means that where an injury is an aggravation of a pre-existing condition, it may be completely covered without anything taken away because of the prior condition. Even if some of the symptoms are from a pre-existing condition, as long as that condition was aggravated, exacerbated, or made worse by the new injury, then the injured person may be entitled to full workers’ compensation benefits.

A classic example of this can be found with rotator cuff tears. The “Rotator Cuff” is the term for four muscles in the shoulder which stabilize the shoulder and help move the arm. The rotator cuff can be torn by any number of things, including lifting injuries, traction injuries (such as reaching out to avoid a fall), or by wear and tear over time. Sometimes people can have tears in the rotator cuff and don’t even know it because tears of the rotator cuff are not always painful. Sometimes a person has an injury at work to his or her shoulder and discovers that he or she now has pain because they have aggravated a pre-existing rotator cuff tear; but now this person is unable to do the lifting that they used to do at work because of the rotator cuff tear. This is a situation where an injured worker qualifies for workers’ compensation because they have aggravated a pre-existing condition.

Katz Friedman recently dealt with this situation in a recent case for client “E.C.” She was simply doing her normal job when she lifted something heavy and felt a stabbing pain in her shoulder. An MRI showed that her rotator cuff had a large tear which had been present before her injury, though she had never noticed a problem before. Katz Friedman fought for her, took her case to arbitration, established that her injury was covered under workers’ compensation and was able to negotiate a settlement for her.

This article originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune Business Section on April 19, 2022.

NORMAL, Illinois — As problems go, Rivian CEO and founder R.J. Scaringe believes he has a good one.

The startup EV manufacturer has renovated a shuttered Normal factory, created thousands of jobs, raised billions of dollars and launched production of an electric pickup truck and SUV that have captured the imagination of the automotive world.

We are lawyers and we pride ourselves on doing things the old-fashioned way and dotting every “I” and crossing every “t”. Lawyers have been using legal pads since the 19th century. We now live in an age of computers. Our office size will eventually shrink as we have less paper to store. We already scan all medical records we receive, and we send most correspondence by e-mail. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission now has all documents filed electronically through their CompFile system.

In the years since Harold Katz and Irv Friedman became partners in 1954, we have seen the advent of the fax machine and computers for typing letters and then for storing data. We have gone from fishing in our pockets for change to call a client to relay a settlement offer to making that call on a cell phone and then texting or emailing the terms to our secretary in the office.

We strive to retain the accessibility of the old-fashioned country lawyer who will meet you in your town, at your union hall or even in your home while keeping current and using technology to make life better for our clients.

DETROIT — Drivers of bigger vehicles such as pickup trucks and SUVs are more likely to hit pedestrians while making turns than drivers of cars, according to a new study.

The research released Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety points to the increasing popularity of larger vehicles as a possible factor in rising pedestrian deaths on U.S. roads. The authors also questioned whether wider pillars holding up roofs of the larger vehicles make it harder for drivers to spot people walking near the corners of vehicles.

“The link between these vehicle types and certain common pedestrian crashes points to another way that the increase in SUVs on the roads might be changing the crash picture…

— KFEEJB Persuades Illinois Appellate Court to Stop Insurer from Ducking its Obligations….

The 1st District Appellate Court recently reversed a finding that a workers compensation insured lacked coverage due to the insured’s lack of cooperation with the insurer’s investigation of an employee’s alleged injury.

The case is Country Mutual Insurance Co. v. Under Construction & Remodeling, Inc., 2021 IL App (1st) 210600 (Dec. 22). The injured worker, an employee of Under Construction, was represented by A-R Igbadume and David Barish of Katz, Friedman, Eagle, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca P.C.

On February 10, 2022, Congress voted in favor of the “Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021”. President Biden is expected to sign the legislation into law in the near future. Just as the title indicates, this Act allows victims of sexual harassment and/or assault in the workplace to file lawsuits in state or federal court, ending the commonly used practice of employers forcing these types of claims into mandatory, confidential arbitrations. The law further renders any prior agreement to waive the right to proceed as a class or joint action unenforceable.

Typically, in Illinois when an employee is subjected to sexual harassment and/or assault at work, he or she will file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee and/or the Illinois Department of Human Rights, the state and federal agencies assigned to investigating these types of charges. If the charge is not resolved during that process, he or she will have the right to proceed to file a lawsuit in state or federal court. However, prior to this law’s passage, if the employee had signed an employment agreement prior to the incidents in question, he or she may have waived the right to file a lawsuit in court. Instead, the only option is to proceed to a private, confidential arbitration. It is estimated that over 60 million workers in the United States have waived this right as part of their employment contracts.

Most of the time, employers want to keep these types of lawsuits out of the court system and in private arbitration. These arbitrations typically proceed quickly, allowing for less time to prove the facts, and are less expensive for employers. Arbitrators often award lower damages than judges or juries award. The appeals process is typically much more difficult after arbitration than it is after a trial in court, and most cases end after the arbitrator’s decision has been rendered. If there are multiple victims of sexual harassment and/or assault pursuing their claims against the same employer, they must pursue those claims in separate arbitrations instead of as a class or jointly. Finally, and very importantly, arbitrations are almost always confidential, meaning that neither the general public, nor other victims, will know the outcome of the arbitrations. After the #MeToo movement, this is arguably very important to many employers.

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