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.