COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients
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As Illinois hits its peak , and many states begin to loosen their restrictions , there are persistent reminders that the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis is far from finished and that lives are still at risk. Chief among these reminders are headlines of outbreaks within Illinois nursing homes, affecting both healthcare workers and some of our state’s most vulnerable residents.

According to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health released April 24, 2020, COVID-19 cases at long-term care facilities grew to over 4,200, and the number of deaths grew from 286 to 624. In Cook County alone, more than half of all COVID-19 deaths have been in nursing homes. In the words of one nursing home worker, “This is a bloodbath. I feel like my heart is breaking.”(source) Dr. Susan Bleasdale, Chief Quality Officer and Infectious Disease Specialist for UI Health stated, “[a]ll of these sort of group communal settings are opportunities for COVID to spread very quickly, and it’s in a vulnerable population. To that end, the Illinois Department of Public Health have instructed facility administrators to restrict visits, cancel group activities, shut down dining rooms, and screen residents and staff for fevers and respiratory diseases.

Especially disconcerting to those on the front lines of fighting this outbreak is the lack of adequate available personal protective equipment (PPE). This puts workers in an unenviable position – PPE is often times not available, and some have municipalities have cited workers who do not use it, as was the case with the City View Multi-Care Center in Cicero. Some of the allegations coming from nursing home workers are particularly disturbing. Workers have cited the lack of PPE, failure to implement strict infection control measures, and staffing shortages as exacerbating the crisis. Workers at the Woodbridge nursing home in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood say administrators told them that masks were “10 times more expensive” than they were before the crisis, and some staff received masks that they were asked to wear for a week at a time. Workers at another Chicago nursing home said that they were told to reuse PPE. “We were told to wear the same gowns in and out of most of the rooms. We knew we were spreading it from patient to patient,” one nursing home worker said.

As virologists and epidemiologists theorize how Covid-19, the disease caused by the Novel Coronavirus (SARS – CoV2), may impact our health, physicians around Chicago are learning first hand how the virus really works. Just this past week, doctors from the University of Chicago released data showing the promise of a drug named Remdesivir that could potentially save countless lives across the globe. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/04/17/remdesivir-coronavirus-drug-gilead-sciences-covid-19-treatment/5150793002/ It is becoming more apparent that the work of physicians treating infected patients is producing the most practical information about symptoms and how to treat the disease. For example, researchers basically provided doctors and nurses with fever, dry cough, and trouble breathing/shortness of breath as the tell-tale signs. With the experience gained in the care and treatment of patients, we know now that many Covid patients present with a loss of smell and taste as one of the most common symptoms. Besides discovering symptoms that global health care organizations seemed unaware of, doctors are essentially re-engineering many standards of care to save lives. Whereas in the past, the standard ventilation procedure would usually involve sedation early on, it is now becoming common practice that Covid patients probably need to be kept off ventilation as long as possible with moving the patient onto his or her stomach, sides, and back.

Because of the rapidly changing standards of care, doctors in Illinois treating Covid-19 patients during this difficult time are even being protected from litigation by an Executive Order by Governor Pritzker. https://www2.illinois.gov/Pages/Executive-Orders/ExecutiveOrder2020-19.aspx However, Illinois’ protections for physicians did not stop there. In addition to shielding doctors from malpractice while treating infected patients, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission gave doctors an evidentiary advantage in filing their own workers’ compensation claims when doctors contract Covid-19. https://wcla.info/resources/Documents/COVID-19%20Page/Notice_of_Emergency_Amendments–2020-04-13.pdf This rule means that if a doctor contracts Covid-19 during this pandemic, it is presumed that it came from their work treating sick patients. This is crucial for doctors’ rights as employees of large hospitals and clinics because doctors are falling ill due to their job duties. Many doctors are dying and many doctors will have long-term health issues that impair their ability to practice medicine. The Illinois Workers Compensation Act was designed to provide disability benefits, payment for medical expenses, and awards and settlements for permanent injuries of all types. The Act also provides benefits in the event of death and for long-term wage loss. Considering that Covid causes lung scarring, various damage to the heart, and both lung and kidney damage, it is apparent that doctors who are injured on the job will have the right to claim benefits for these types of injuries. Up until recent times, doctors were not in a line of employment that put them at risk of injury very often, but that has changed in just a matter of months. More doctors are looking into their rights to file claims against their employers and many are contacting Chicago workers compensation lawyers because falling ill on the job is impacting their livelihoods.

Chicago workers’ compensation lawyers at Katz Friedman are currently investigating Covid-19 cases on behalf of sick doctors and nurses. When making decisions regarding a work injury from Covid, it is wise to consult an attorney to protect your interests because it is clear that the employers already have their lawyers working on this issue to defeat your claim. If you or someone you know works in the health care field and suffers from COVID-19, the attorneys and staff of Katz Friedman are here to help with obtaining proper compensation.

Industrial workers face many potential dangers every day at work. Conveyor belts are one such example. Conveyor belt accidents lead to roughly 9,000 injuries per year, along with dozens of fatalities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Once workers become caught in a conveyor belt, they can suffer injuries like amputations, lacerations, burns, degloving injuries, bone fractures and death. In many circumstances, others may be to blame, whether totally or at least in part. These causes include a failure to perform the necessary maintenance on the plant’s machinery, defects in the machinery, and improper training. If you’ve been hurt in a conveyor belt accident, you should reach out without delay to an experienced Chicago work injury attorney to discover what legal options exist for you to receive the compensation you need.

Back in the fall, a very serious injury accident occurred at a packaging plant in Kane County. According to a kcchronicle.com report, the accident involved a temporary worker who became trapped in a conveyor belt assembly early one morning. The maintenance workers were able to take the conveyor belt apart and get the woman free before the fire department arrived. Despite being freed, the woman still faced serious medical issues. She was transported by helicopter to a nearby Level I trauma center with life-threatening injuries. (Level I is the highest level of trauma care.)

A later report indicated that, despite the extreme injuries, the woman survived. News reports did not divulge the results of the OSHA investigation, so it is not known exactly what caused this accident in Kane County.

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An article in the New York Times on April 22 noted that “outbreaks [of Covid-19] are mounting in processing plants and factories in Midwestern towns.” (Source)

We have been representing injured workers from these plants, factories and towns for over 50 years. We have seen ancient machines that were built without thought of the safety of the workers who operated those machines give way to more modern machines that may create an incrementally safer workplace but have automated away many of the jobs the grandparents and parents of today’s workers used to hold. We have seen jobs that were brutal and repetitive become modified to allow rotation so workers do not do exactly the same thing for their entire shift.

This is part of the cycle of manufacturing. When things are new they are engineered for profit and efficiency. After many workers suffer and many dollars are paid in claims the companies re engineer and try to come up with processes that are safer for union workers and less costly for the executives and insurance companies.

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.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to strain hospitals and stretch already thin staffing resources, Governor Pritzker has asked retired healthcare workers to aid in the fight against the Coronavirus. “We’re in the middle of a battle, and we need reinforcements,” Pritzker stated during a press conference. (source)

Among those answering this call are respiratory therapists. (source) Along with nurses, doctors, and other medical personnel, respiratory therapists are on the front line of this pandemic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, chief among the responsibilities of respiratory therapists are performing diagnostic tests – such as measuring lung capacity – administering chest physiotherapy, nebulizer treatments, and aerosolized medications, performing intubations and connecting patients to ventilators.(source) In the words of one doctor, respiratory therapists “serve as the glue that brings everything together when doctors manage patients with respiratory illnesses.”(source) This expertise makes respiratory care practitioners especially essential during this current crisis because they are operating the ventilators that are keeping Coronavirus patients alive. Operating ventilators is an intensive process, requiring significant time in the proximity of critically ill patients, creating a higher risk of exposure.

For those retired therapists returning to the work force in the midst of this pandemic, it can be a particularly worrisome time. Many of those answering the call and returning to the front line after years of retirement may be at a higher risk because they may fall into one or more high risk categories. (source) Additionally, while the public has become well aware of the critical need for ventilators, many may not understand the intubation process required to connect a patient to one. This process involves exceptionally close contact with an ill patient, including lifting the patient’s chin or jaw to open their airway, using a laryngoscope to view a patient’s airway, inserting an endotracheal tube into their trachea, and taping the tube to their face. Such close contact can expose respiratory therapists and other medical personnel involved to patient’s airways, aerosolized droplets, condensate from tubing, and other risks associated with tending to critically ill patients.

We have rallied around our first responders who are protecting us against Covid-19 and who maintain order and protect our homes and lives. Many houses have homemade signs in their windows expressing solidarity with police, fire and healthcare workers. We join in that sentiment and are aware of the risks those workers take every day. However, they are not the only ones who are continuing to work and continuing to put their lives at risk.

There is a wide range of “essential workers” who continue to provide service, continue to risk their lives by making contact with other humans as we attempt to live normal lives in the wake of the pandemic. The Governor has designated the following workers as essential:

  •  Healthcare and Public Health Operations (includes businesses in the supply chain)

As scientific modeling shows a peak and flattening of the curve by mid-April, the time that it will take for the leveling out and decline will probably last until early May. That means that the exposure that medical professionals working at places like UIC, University of Chicago, Advocate, Rush, Amita, and Northwestern have had to this disease will only worsen until the cases decline substantially from where they are now. (source via NPR) This likely means that those employed in healthcare will see an even greater percentage of work injuries due to Covid-19 than many scientists first predicted. Although people in Illinois hear the news about how the efforts to slow the novel Coronavirus down are working, they are usually not aware of that the same horror stories that are seen in New York City are happening in Chicago and across Illinois. In fact, hospitals in Chicago are running short of personal protective equipment necessary for health care workers to maintain body substance isolation from infected patients. Rather than provide the necessary equipment, hospitals are putting their employees at risk of falling ill with Covid-19 by failing to provide enough masks, gowns, and face shields. Many hospitals are telling nurses to re-use masks and gowns. Without this equipment, hospital management is essentially putting their nurses, nurse’s aides, nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists, physician’s assistants, and doctors in harm’s way.

Fortunately for healthcare professionals, the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission issued an emergency rule deeming essential workers including but not limited to EMT’s/ paramedics, CNA’s, RN’s, CNP’s, PA’s, technicians, therapists, and doctors as presumed to have contracted Covid-19 at work if they get a positive test. (source via WBEZ) The impact of this rule is groundbreaking to say the least because it puts pressure on an hospital to try to show how their employee did not contract Covid-19 on the job. Thus, when a sick healthcare worker can show that they contracted Covid-19 and were working for a health care provider, they will have an easier time succeeding on their case. That being said, insurance companies will not second-guess fighting any Covid-19 work comp claim that they can. Not only is it in the nature of insurance companies to fight legitimate claims, insurance companies rarely see the negative perception in instances where they try to take advantage of sick and injured people. Legal scholars predict that despite this recent rule benefiting all sick healthcare workers, insurance companies intend to fight the cases brought by healthcare workers as the court system starts to return to normal.

It is anticipated that insurance companies and their lawyers will try to minimize the suffering, harm, and damage done to healthcare workers by claiming that they have little to no permanency and thus deserve little to no award. While this may sound shameful on many levels, it also disregards the science that is out there related to the harmful long-term effects of those who survived SARS-CoV-1 and the data that is coming out from the early survivors of SARS-CoV-2. If the recent outbreak has just slightly similar long-term effects as the first outbreak, it is highly likely that our health care system will become weakened for decades. The infections from Covid are leaving various physical and mental health damages. Primarily, we know the lung scarring and diminished lung capacity is the most concerning part of the body that is being widely impacted. Furthermore, it is thought that besides lung issues, infected persons can suffer from bone and joint issues. In particular, we may see necrosis of the hip. (source via Nature) What is also alarming is that along with decreased lung function, diminished cardiac function is also likely. Many people dying of Covid-19 are dying from cardiac arrest and heart failure. Heart disease from Covid-19 is unfortunately expected to become rampant. (source via Nature) Even for those healthcare workers who have milder cases, they can expect to see themselves and many of their colleagues develop impaired endurance and chronic fatigue. (sources via National Center for Biotechnology and Journale of American Medical Association Network)

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.

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