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

Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

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.

When Governor Pritzker ordered the public to shelter at home to “flatten the curve” of rising infections from the Covid 19 virus, he also exempted a number of workers from this order, deeming these workers essential to the machinery of fighting the disease and required to keep others fed, clothed, protected and safe. These essential workers are out in the work place every day. Each and every one of us have seen these workers in action, whether witnessing the heroism of our nurses, physicians and medical personnel or the bravery of delivery workers, food and grocery store workers as well as trade workers. There has been a great deal of concern for the health and well being of each and every one of these brave souls. Clearly, these are the very workers at greatest risk of contracting the Covid 19 virus. Governor J.B. Pritzker has called upon the Workers’ Compensation Commission to address the concerns of the union officials who represent these workers that the Rules for receiving workers’ compensation benefits be relaxed to enable these front line workers to recover workers’ compensation temporary total disability, medical benefits and benefits for permanent partial disability or death. On April 13, 2020, the Workers’ Compensation Commission filed an Emergency Rule to deal with these concerns. See: https://wcla.info/resources/Documents/COVID-19%20Page/Notice_of_Emergency_Amendments–2020-04-13.pdf.

What this rule means is that first responders and essential workers 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 is a rebuttable presumption, but this presumption goes a long way to helping us prove your claim for benefits under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act was the result of the workplace exposure to the virus and not simply a disease which is common to the general public. A rebuttable presumption is not a guarantee your case is a winner, the burden of proof can easily be defeated and force the worker bringing the claim to undertake litigation to prove all the elements of any claim under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Rest assured Illinois employers will likely contest and fight vigorously to defeat any claim that a case of Covid 19 is the result of a work exposure. We still expect substantial litigation and fighting by the attorneys who represent the insurance companies to attempt to avoid responsibility for the employer’s obligations under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act.

If you have any questions or concerns over COVID-19 exposure or any other issue concerning the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Laws or benefits, please do not hesitate to call us anytime at 1-800-444-1525 or 1-312-263-6330.

Grocery store and delivery workers have recently been thrown into the front lines in the battle against the most dangerous pandemic in 100 years. As business after business shuts down, food delivery has become one of the most important parts of the economy. Across the country, workers at places like Amazon, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Kroger, Domino’s, Costco, Uber Eats, Chipotle, and McDonalds have received much deserved praise and admiration for providing essential services to millions of people sheltered and isolated at home. While these employers are increasing wages and making promises to provide protective equipment, workers are still falling ill. What’s more, is that these employees are still getting hurt on the job and they still aren’t fully aware of their rights to compensation. While drivers involved in car accidents often have the ability to file two different claims, workers contracting Covid on the job are being left in the dark by their companies.

The family of a Chicago-area Walmart employee filed a lawsuit against the company for wrongful death alleging that Walmart failed to keep its employee safe from the Coronavirus. In fact, two Evergreen Park employees died just four days apart from Covid. Both employees were long-term Walmart associates with nine and fifteen years of dedicated service. While legal scholars highly doubt the chances of a civil lawsuit for a work-related injury succeeding, there is no doubt that these co-workers’ families are within their rights to file a workers’ compensation claims for death benefits. In Illinois, workers’ compensation death benefits are paid for 25 years or up to $500,000.00, whichever is greater. While many lawyers would file for workers’ compensation benefits in a situation like this, a civil action, if not dismissed in the early stages of the case, still runs the risk of Walmart claiming many different highly-factual defenses. For instance, Walmart is already disputing the family’s timeline of how the deaths of its employees took place. Bottom line, Walmart will claim that the employees were not present when they contracted the disease. Like with most legal cases, corporations and employers like Walmart will hire expert doctors who almost always give an opinion that the injury or illness simply was not caused by anything on the job or the incident itself.

The concern with these deaths around Chicago is the lack of personal protective equipment at Walmart. While OSHA and the CDC may look into the matter, companies are trying to get ahead of the disease by doing their own testing and providing more protective equipment. At a minimum, these deaths have prompted companies to disinfect and sanitize the work place. Amazon has recently been testing disinfectant fog to clean warehouses and distribution centers. Regardless of whether Amazon makes a difference in the health and safety of their employees, the company has plans to hire at least 100,000 additional workers. On the one hand, the extra workers will be necessary to help with the heavy increase in demand for the necessities of life being delivered to millions of homes. On the other hand, many workers suspect that Amazon is planning to use the additional workers to fill the vacant spots of sick and injured workers who not only get hurt in slip and fall incidents or get hit by forklifts, but also for those who contract Covid and are off work for at least two weeks. The spread of the disease at Amazon warehouses is so prevalent that more than fifty Amazon warehouses have reported Coronavirus cases. This comes as no surprise when a typical warehouse worker touches as many as two thousand items per day and many of them do this without personal protection.

AMAZON-300x197Jeff Bezos can probably take credit for changing the way people shop online more than any single person. While the road to Amazon’s dominance as a retailer certainly has been fueled by a spark of ingenuity, that same road has also been filled with many strategies designed to protect the company to the detriment of its work force. While news stories have focused on Amazon fulfillment worker injuries at its numerous warehouses across the country, many Chicago area Amazon workers face other challenges. This is especially true as Amazon uses a strategy that involves treating its Flex drivers as 1099’s or independent contractors even though they are under the direction and control by Amazon.com, Inc. as to how they are required to do their jobs. For instance, Amazon uses GPS to tell the drivers where to go after the packages are picked up. Amazon has the right to control how many blocks a driver gets, which means that sometimes a driver will not get consistent work.

Many Amazon delivery drivers may be surprised to learn that Amazon.com, Inc. does not consider them to be employees. That means that Amazon Flex drivers will be told by Amazon’s lawyers that they do not have workers’ compensation benefits when they sustain a work injury. Amazon operates very much like Uber and Lyft as part of the gig economy that uses a strategy of evading the existing laws that are designed to protect workers when they are hurt on the job. This probably is not a surprise because it is a way of saving money and passing the buck to society both by not paying for work comp insurance and by pushing the costs onto local, state, and federal governments. They also operate like many delivery companies in that they tell their drivers that they are their own boss yet control they way they do their jobs from start to finish by using an app. For example, Amazon drivers must operate under a “Block.” This means that a driver must deliver a certain amount of packages in a set time based on what the company thinks that a driver should be able to accomplish. A driver is paid the same whether they complete this block in the allotted time or not.

Certainly, Amazon Flex drivers are at a higher risk of harm than most people because they are driving through many urban and suburban areas, parking, walking to doorsteps, and doing all of this through ice, snow, sleet, and rain, especially in Illinois. It comes as no surprise that Amazon delivery drivers sustain work injuries not only in major vehicle accidents, but also in slip and fall and trip and fall accidents. In the recent weeks, there have been many concerns voiced about Amazon drivers becoming infected with the Coronavirus and developing Covid-19 illness. According a a recent Seattle Times article, Amazon is telling drivers to knock with their phones, don’t sneeze on packages, and to have customers step away from their ID’s left on the ground to avoid spreading the virus. https://www.seattletimes.com/business/amazon/amazon-gives-delivery-drivers-detailed-guidance-for-working-amid-coronavirus/ Considering the recent surge in orders and Amazon increasing the hourly rate for Flex drivers, not only will there be an increase in the number of Amazon workers hurt at work and left in the cold from car crashes, but there will probably be a surge in the number of workers who fall ill with Covid-19 who are easily and rapidly replaced by Amazon. In fact, the way that Amzaon treats its workers is very close to treating them like robots. It is expected that Amazon will proceed this way until they can replace their drivers with automated vehicles and drones. Despite what Amazon’s lawyers say, Flex drivers are covered under Illinois Workers’ Compensation law.

Unfortunately, injury-causing or fatal workplace accidents too often involve an employer that cut safety corners to save time, money, or both, or that otherwise ignored its worker safety and health obligations. When that happens, the workers harmed by the accidents that ensue may have their lives forever changed (or ended) by those injuries. The law says that, when that happens, the workers or their families may be entitled to be compensated for the harm that they suffered. Be sure to contact a Chicago work injury attorney about your situation.

Back in May of 2019, an explosion at a specialty chemical plant rocked the city of Waukegan. The explosion was so massive that it was felt throughout much of Lake County. For five families, though, what they suffered was far worse than just feeling an odd rumble beneath their feet. The explosion killed four workers and very seriously injured a fifth.

And, according to an investigation performed by the Chemical Safety Board, it didn’t have to happen. The Chicago Tribune reported that the interim executive of the board declared the accident to be preventable because more complete safety “management systems could have avoided the incident.”

Many times, vehicle accidents involve a limited range of legal options. You can pursue the at-fault driver and his auto insurer… and that could be all. In other situations, though, a vehicle accident may present you with a greater array of legal avenues. If, for example, your injury accident was caused by the driver of a truck or other work vehicle that was doing work for the City of Chicago, then you may be able to pursue compensation from the City of Chicago.

This option of suing the city may greatly enhance your odds of getting a full and fair recovery, whether via verdict or settlement. To learn more about the various legal options available to get the full amount of compensation you deserve, be sure to engage an experienced Chicago injury attorney.

Two accidents that illustrate this point recently ended in settlements. The more recent accident, reported by the Sun-Times, occurred in the West Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. Reportedly, the accident victims, 7-year-old S.L. and her mother, J.L. were attempting to cross South Ashland Avenue at West 65th Street. The pair made it only halfway across the street before they were struck by a tractor’s trailer. The accident left the mother with a hip injury but killed the girl.

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Sleep Tips for Commercial Drivers

If you are a commercial driver or you know one, it’s important to educate yourself about drowsy driving, what helps mitigate it, and what makes it worse.

1. Get Enough Sleep Before You Drive

If you are a close loved one of someone who died in an auto accident, you likely have many things on your plate in the days, weeks and months after the tragic incident. You may be dealing with interactions with friends and family. You may be dealing with the deceased’s personal effects and final arrangements. You are doubtlessly dealing with your own emotions. On top of all that, there may the matter of possible legal action based upon the accident. As you deal with the multitude of personal and family issues that require your attention, leave the litigation issues to the legal professionals. Retain knowledgeable Chicago auto accident counsel to be sure that your case gets the legal representation it needs.

Patch.com recently reported on a wrongful death filing submitted in nearby Will County. In that civil court complaint, the estate of a woman fatally injured in a crash just west of Joliet had sued two drivers. The complaint alleged that J.B., an elderly woman, was riding in a minivan that was being driven by E.C., her caretaker. E.C. was traveling west on a city street near an interstate overpass. A.R. was driving his 1999 Mitsubishi eastbound on the same road. As the two vehicles crossed paths, a massive collision occurred.

The lawsuit named both E.C. and A.R. as defendants. The complaint alleged E.C. was negligent in her driving and therefore liable. Specifically, the lawsuit asserted that E.C. had a solid red traffic light in her direction but that, in spite of her red light, she improperly failed to yield the right of way. The lawsuit also named A.R. and asserted that he was negligent.

If you lose a loved one as a result of someone else’s wrongful action or inaction, it is important to understand that you only have a limited time to assert your rights through the legal system. In the circumstance of a wrongful death that is a result of an auto accident, you have either two years from the date of the accident or one year from the date of the victim’s death, whichever is later. It is very important to be keenly aware of these deadlines because a failure to comply with the statute of limitations can result in a dismissal and no compensation, regardless of how strong your evidence is. That’s one reason why it is important to contact an experienced Chicago wrongful death attorney about your situation and the options for proceeding.

The underlying accident in a recent case, as reported by theherald-news.com, was a tragic car crash in the small village of Beecher in Will County. Sean, a 25-year-old local man, was allegedly speeding. In fact, he was allegedly going more than 20 miles per hour over the 55 mph speed limit when he blew through a stop sign and slammed into an SUV carrying a pregnant mom and her three young sons. The mother and youngest son died at the scene, while the other two boys died a few days later, according to the report.

The husband and father of the victims sued the driver under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act. Under the Illinois statute, only a limited number of people can bring a wrongful death action. These include a spouse, an adult child, or a parent (if the deceased person is a minor). Since the dead people in this case were the man’s wife and his three sons, he clearly was someone legally permitted to bring a wrongful death lawsuit.

Illinois law allows injured people to hold employers liable for the acts of their employees in certain situations. While the law generally says that one party cannot be liable for the criminal acts of another, the law does demand that employers “act reasonably in hiring, supervising and retaining” their employees. In order to succeed under Illinois law, you must show that the employer knew or should have known that the employee in question posed a danger to third parties (and that this problem was known at the time of hiring or retention), and this problem was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. If you’ve been injured because an employer didn’t do enough to stop one of its employees, you may have a case and should consult Illinois injury counsel about your circumstances.

The details of one recent federal case were truly tragic. Alisha, who was from just outside Chicago, had worked for a “big box” home improvement store since she was 16. During her five-year tenure with the store, Alisha only had one supervisor. That supervisor allegedly verbally abused her at work and monitored her activity both during and outside work. The supervisor also required that she accompany him on business trips. Eventually, he demanded that she accompany him to his sister’s wedding in Wisconsin, threatening to reduce her hours or terminate her employment completely if she refused. She went. After the wedding, he raped and killed her.

Alisha’s mother, Sherry, sued the employer for wrongful death. She argued that the employer knew about the supervisor’s disturbing propensities and did not do enough. By failing to take appropriate steps, the employer was liable for the supervisor’s violent acts.

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