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

Articles Posted in Worker Comp Blog

As an American Airlines International flight attendant, you travel a great deal and may encounter unexpected, even dangerous situations, not only on the plane, but while on layovers or in hotel restaurants. If you’re injured in the scope of employment, you’re entitled to file a workers’ compensation claim for benefits. However, if a third party contributes to or causes your work injury, you may be able to also file a civil lawsuit against the third party to recover damages. You need to be aware that American Airlines or its workers’ compensation insurance carrier may have the right to recover expenses related to payment of workers’ compensation when a third party was at fault. This is called a subrogation interest. Subrogation of American Airlines international flight attendant claims can be extremely complicated. If your work-related injuries may have been caused by someone other than your employer, you should consult the experienced Chicago workers compensation lawyers of Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca. As an AV-rated law firm, we’ve fought for fair compensation for more than 60 years.

Subrogation of American Airlines International Flight Attendant Claims

Workers’ compensation is an exclusive remedy. Through this system, lawmakers intended you to be able to recover benefits without needing to establish an employer’s liability as you would in court. In exchange, you cannot sue your employer for work-related injuries and your benefits may be less than what you’d recover if liability were established in a lawsuit. However, if a third party is responsible for your work injuries in Chicago, you may be able to pursue damages in a lawsuit against that person or entity.

Workplace accidents that result in scarring or disfigurement are devastating, painful and emotionally difficult. Firefighters are particularly at risk of scarring and disfigurement on the job. As a firefighter, you may experience a permanent change in your appearance as a result of a fire. Firefighters in the City of Chicago are usually not covered for work-related injuries because the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act doesn’t cover firefighters who work in cities with populations of 500,000 or more. However, there is an exception for Chicago firefighters who suffer serious and permanent disfigurement due to burns. Evaluation of benefits for scarring and disfigurement requires assessing the extent of the disfigurement and whether a bodily function was impaired. If you are concerned about scarring for firefighters, you should discuss your claim with our experienced Chicago workers’ compensation lawyers.

Scarring for Firefighters

Firefighting is a dangerous job. Scarring or disfigurement may be the result of:

A change in the federal regulations could have a massive impact on the people who drive for Uber or Lyft, including the thousands of Uber and Lyft drivers in Illinois. The removal of a rule released under the Trump Administration means that it will now be harder for companies like Uber and Lyft to classify their drivers as independent contractors (as opposed to employees,) which means it will be relatively easier for those drivers to obtain benefits like workers’ compensation. If you were hurt while driving for Uber or Lyft, be sure to act without delay in contacting a knowledgeable Chicago workers’ compensation lawyer.

Back in early January, the U.S. Department of Labor released a new rule that clarified who did – and did not – qualify as employees as opposed to independent contractors under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Under the standard created by that rule, it was relatively easier for employers to classify workers as independent contractors and not run afoul of the law and federal regulators.

Under the Biden Administration, that rule is no more. In withdrawing the rule effective May 6, the current Labor Department said that the previous rule did not properly reflect the text of the FLSA and relevant judicial rulings.

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Amazon is in the news again and it isn’t good news for some of the company’s warehouse workers in the Chicago area, according to groups that advocate on behalf of those workers. Recent reports say that many workers are being presented with a dismal choice: lose their jobs in the middle of this pandemic-fueled recession or else agree to work 10½-hour-long graveyard “megacycle” shifts at a new warehouse. This comes even as past research has shown that longer shifts often can lead to greater health and safety problems for workers. If you’ve been hurt at your warehouse job in or around Chicago, whether or not you were working exceptionally long shifts, you should take the time to contact a knowledgeable Illinois workplace injury attorney to get the legal advice you need.

According to a report from Motherboard, the aforementioned offer came on January 25 to the workers at Amazon’s McKinley Park warehouse known as DCH1. According to the reports, Amazon informed the workers that the company was closing down DCH1, which meant that those workers had two options: accept work at a new Chicago-area warehouse or else be terminated. The catch was, however, that the positions at the new warehouse involved megacycle work, which meant working four days per week, from 1:20 am to 11:50 am.

The situation facing DCH1 warehouse workers isn’t unique. According to the Motherboard report, Amazon “has been quietly transitioning warehouse workers at delivery stations nationwide to the ‘megacycle’ shift in recent months.”

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In early 2021, United Continental Holdings (commonly known as UAL) began offering its flight attendants a Voluntary Separation Leave package 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 claim workers’ compensation benefits. This means that accepting the VSL does not forfeit your right in a 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 even after accepting the VSL.

However, flight attendants considering accepting this agreement should note that by signing the VLS agreement, the flight attendant is certifying that he or she had “no unreported on-the-job injuries”. By signing this 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 unfiled 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 VSL 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 guidance and things to consider.

Normally, if you are hurt on the job in Illinois, you are limited to receiving only workers’ compensation benefits. If, however, your employer didn’t have valid workers’ compensation insurance at the time of your injury, then the range of outcomes is very different. In that circumstance, your employer isn’t shielded by the protections of the Workers’ Compensation Act, which means that you are no longer prohibited from suing your employer in civil court and getting a damages award in the full amount of the harm you suffered. This may help because a civil court damages award could be massively bigger than the award of workers’ comp benefits you otherwise would have received. To do that requires clearing many legal procedural hurdles that are often technically intricate and complicated, so it pays to have a knowledgeable Chicago workers’ compensation attorney on your side.

As an example, there’s the appellate court judgement regarding the case of J.G., a worker for a food manufacturer in the Chicago area. When he was hurt at work in early 2018, J.G. hired legal counsel to handle his workers’ compensation case. His attorney began investigating the case and discovered that J.G.’s employer did not have workers’ compensation insurance at the time of J.G.’s accident.

To be able to bypass the workers’ comp process and instead take your employer to civil court based on your employer’s lack of valid insurance coverage, you have to jump through several hoops in terms of proof.

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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.

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.

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