COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients
Justia Lawyer Rating for David M. Barish

Statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) showed that, in 2015, some 13% of all large truck accidents were the result of driver fatigue, a percentage greater than alcohol and illegal drugs combined (11%). Drowsy truck drivers represent an extreme danger risk on Illinois’s highways, as an accident involving a sleepy (or sleeping) truck driver often also involves a big rig traveling at high speeds. If you or a loved one have been hurt by a trucker who drove while drowsy or otherwise fatigued, you may be able to recover substantial compensation in court, so you should act quickly to contact a knowledgeable Chicago truck accident attorney.

A tragic January accident is an example of just damaging semi accidents can be. The driver of a FedEx semi, traveling eastbound on I-90 near Rockford at roughly 1:00 a.m. one morning, crashed into the rear of a disabled vehicle that was positioned along the right-hand shoulder of the highway. The disabled vehicle’s driver, a young mother who had run out of gas and was standing alongside her vehicle, died at the scene. Her 4-year-old child, who was still in the vehicle, suffered minor injuries, according to a WIFR report. The report indicated that the truck driver was cited by police for “failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident.” Police indicated drugs and alcohol were not believed to be factors in the crash.

The information reported by the news media offers us some facts, but not everything, about this crash. We know that the accident happened in the wee hours of the morning. We know that the deceased driver pulled off the highway after her vehicle stopped running. We know semi driver was believed by police to be completely sober. The information from the news reports did not rule out driver fatigue as a factor in the crash.

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Whether you are an Uber or Lyft passenger or a driver for one of those services, you know that one of the biggest hurdles you’ll face, should you be injured during your ride, is that the rideshare company will try to avoid any legal liability, and will probably try use its driver contract agreement, which identifies all drivers as independent contractors, as the means to accomplish that. Drivers and passengers are beginning to log some successes in defeating that argument, as a recent case from Boston demonstrated. While this case is from a federal court in Massachusetts, it should signal that there are legal options available, including here in Illinois, should you need to sue a rideshare company. Start by retaining an experienced Chicago accident attorney to make sure you’re going about your legal action the right way.

In the Massachusetts federal court case, the judge said that a group of Lyft drivers had a “substantial likelihood of success” when it came to showing that they were employees of the rideshare company, not independent contractors.

That case was different in many ways than your Lyft or Uber injury case would be if you were injured a rideshare crash or as a result of a rideshare attack. The Boston case involved a group of Lyft drivers suing for minimum wage and overtime violations, not personal injuries.

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A multi-vehicle chain-reaction accident involving an Amazon semi-truck left two people dead in Houston, Texas shortly before Easter Sunday. Unfortunately, headlines and stories like this are popping up far too often. Amazon trucks are becoming involved in an ever-increasing number of accidents… accidents causing major injuries and sometimes fatalities. If you are injured in Illinois by an Amazon truck, or by a truck driver delivering items for Amazon, you may be entitled to compensation from the massive corporation. To find who owes you damages for the harm you’ve suffered, reach promptly and speak to a knowledgeable Chicago truck accident attorney about your circumstances.

In the Houston incident, the accident, which occurred in the wee hours of the morning, initially wrecked a Mazda, a Chevrolet pickup truck and a Lincoln SUV, according to the Houston Chronicle. The Mazda’s driver and a passenger in the Lincoln exited their vehicles. As they did so, “an Amazon 18-wheeler plowed through the crash site,” according to the report, killing them. A third person, a “Good Samaritan” who had stopped to help, only escaped the big rig’s path by jumping off the freeway overpass, landing some 10-15 feet below, whereupon he suffered serious injuries, according to ABC 13. The ABC report also indicated that the roads were rain-slickened at the time of the crash.

In late January, an Amazon Prime truck headed northbound on I-77 north of Charlotte abruptly crashed into and through a guardrail at roughly 1:00 a.m. Fortunately, in this accident, no one was seriously injured, as the truck collided with no other vehicles and the roughly 13,000 packages that spilled from the trailer generally landed on the grass to the east of the northbound lanes. WSOC, which covered the accident, stated that it was not known “yet what caused the truck to go off the interstate.”

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Workers across Chicagoland and all of Illinois have always faced the challenge of dealing with workplaces that may provide inadequate safety protections. Today, though, workers face a new challenge: employers that fail to provide them with the level of protection against novel coronavirus that the law says those workers are entitled to receive. If your employer isn’t following the prescribed guidance and is placing you at risk, the legal system here in Illinois may offer an opportunity to recover much-needed relief, so be sure to reach out to an experienced Chicago workplace injury attorney right away.

One recent case that offers some important good news comes from right here in Cook County, Risk and Insurance reported. The workers who brought that lawsuit were a group of fast-food employees who worked for McDonald’s. According to the workers, their employer required them to work in close proximity to potentially infected coworkers, contrary to the six-foot social distancing space recommended by the CDC. Additionally, the workers alleged that mask-wearing protocols were not being followed at their workplaces.

Already, the workers have cleared two important hurdles, according to the report. First, the workers defeated the employer’s request for summary judgment in its favor that would have thrown out the lawsuit. The judge stated that, “even if a remedy could be found in administrative bodies,” that doesn’t mean that the workers could not pursue, and potentially win, their case.

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There are many ways that a commercial truck driver can err and cause an accident with injuries. These can include good-faith judgment mistakes, such as going too fast for a rain or ice-slicked highway. Other times, the driver’s actions are less “good-faith,” such as when a driver causes an injury crash because he was impaired by drugs or alcohol. When you’re injured by a commercial truck driver, you are entitled to sue for the harm you suffered. Getting the full recovery you deserve often depends on accumulating and presenting the right evidence about who was legally liable for those injuries caused, and getting a judgment against all of them. To ensure you are equipped to get that full recovery, be sure you have a knowledgeable Chicago truck accident attorney working for you.

In one recent Central Illinois commercial truck accident, the outcome was tragedy. According to WAND TV, a grandmother was outside her vehicle in the parking lot of a local gas station when a dump truck lost control trying turn at a nearby intersection. The truck slammed through a ditch, passed over a street and careened into the parking lot, where it hit and killed the woman.

A day after the crash, the state charged the truck driver with aggravated DUI, reckless homicide and various drug crimes, according to the WAND report. The driver was operating a dump truck for the local township at the time of the fatal accident.

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Many news reports in the past have covered the intense pressure Amazon drivers face to meet delivery deadlines during the winter holiday season, and the safety issues those demands trigger. New reports, however, are highlighting a uniquely 2020 problem: a coronavirus-fueled world where every day is like late December for Amazon drivers. These intense demands and pressures on Amazon’s fleet of drivers has the potential to cause injuries – both to the drivers themselves and also to the other drivers Amazon’s drivers encounter on the expressways and roadways. If you’ve been injured in such an accident, you may potentially have a right to pursue compensation from Amazon itself. Be sure to contact an experienced Chicago accident attorney about the facts surrounding your injuries.

One example of this occurred just an hour away from Chicago. On Dec. 22 of last year, a motorcyclist was involved in a terrible accident, according to a nwi.com report. Allegedly, an Amazon driver, L.H. excited a residence and improperly failed to yield to oncoming traffic. Her van collided with T.D.’s motorcycle, critically injuring T.D., according to the lawsuit he filed.

T.D.’s accident happened near the peak of what is typically Amazon’s busiest season for deliveries. The motorcyclist’s lawsuit alleged that Amazon’s “unreasonable and unsafe demands” placed on drivers contributed to the catastrophic crash. According to the nwi.com report, T.D. asserted in his court case that Amazon delivery drivers “often have to deliver upwards of 250 packages a day, which leaves less than two minutes per package during an eight-hour shift.”

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If you or a loved one has a medical condition that will prevent you from working for at least 12 consecutive months, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. If so, you must file an Application with Social Security to begin this process. If you are already a recipient of either SSDI or SSI benefits, your payments, whether by direct deposit or mail will continue. Due to the Corona Virus, all local Social Security offices have been closed to the public since March 17, 2020. This protects Social Security’s employees as well as the population served by Social Security (mostly older individuals and people with underlying medical conditions). While you are no longer able to have in-person interviews to start this process you may apply for benefits on line (Social Security’s preferred method) (ssa.gov/onlineservices/) or you may call your local office. Use Social Security’s Field Office Locator (secure.ssa.gov/ICON/main.jsp) and look under additional information. Before you call, check out Social Security’s most frequently asked questions. If you already had an appointment scheduled with your local office, an employee will attempt to contact you at your originally scheduled appointment time. If you choose to file online we realize that it might be difficult to navigate Social Security’s online system. The experienced attorneys and staff at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca can help you navigate this and answer your questions.

If you have already filed an Application for Benefits, Social Security will still issue a written decision and mail it to you. If you are denied you may appeal this decision online. There are certain deadlines for doing so that are indicated in the decision. If you do not file your appeal timely, you will have to start the process over again.

Not only have the Field Offices been closed but DDS (Disability Determination Services) is working on only a limited basis and Social Security has suspended all in-person hearings. Administrative Law Judges are now conducting hearings by telephone. Any previously scheduled hearing will now be conducted by telephone for the foreseeable future. Claimants may agree to have telephonic hearings or they may choose to wait until they can have an in-person hearing. Social Security will contact you to find out which you prefer. Telephone hearings are not mandatory. If you ask that your hearing be postponed you will be sent a notice advising you of the new date, time and location of your hearing. While finally having a (phone) hearing after waiting for so long might seem like a good thing, there may be reasons on a case by case basis to delay such hearings. For instance, it is difficult to judge a Claimant’s credibility over the phone. Also, will a judge likely be as empathetic if he/she cannot actually observe the Claimant throughout the hearing? These are difficult decisions to make. The attorneys at Katz, Friedman can aide you in deciding which option might be best in your situation.

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.

image000000-227x300Are you new to or simply need a refresher in handling Workers’ Compensation claims for either Petitioners or Respondents?

Great news! Our very own Partner Philip Bareck will be a presenter for The Illinois Institute of Continuing Legal Education’s Annual Work Comp bootcamp program in October.

Please consider attending this informative live webcast on October 2nd. There are just two weeks left to lock in early bird pricing!

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