In March, 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission made changes that kept the Commission operational. The ISIA recognizes the swift action taken by the Chairman, Michael Brennan, and his staff. The Commission remained operational throughout the crisis. As COVID-19 restrictions and guidance have evolved, the Commission continued to adjust. New protocols remain in place at the Commission. Arbitrators continue to conduct their monthly status call virtually. Cases that are properly motioned under Section 19(b) and motions for trial are set for a pre-trial conference during the same month as the status call. Pre-trials also continue to be held virtually. Arbitrators then schedule trial dates during the next calendar month following the status call. Trial dates are held in-person with appropriate health and safety policies in place.
Like the status calls, the Commission Review Calls are also proceeding virtually. Cases needing a hearing before a Commissioner are scheduled and are in-person. For now, oral arguments continue virtually. When appropriate, oral arguments will return to in person. In Summer, 2021, the Commission moved its Chicago administrative and hearing location from the 8th Floor of the Thompson Center to new office and hearing space. Hearings are now held in the lower level of the Daley Center. Administrative, Arbitrator and Commissioner offices are located at 69 West Washington Street, Suite 900, Chicago, 60602. The new hearing location offers updated technology and more efficient use of space.
The Commission moved quickly to a paperless environment by upgrading its hardware and software. Rolled out initially for settlement contract approval, the CompFile system now allows all filing to be by e-filing. The next roll-out will include application for, and management of, self insurance.
There are many new Arbitrator appointments. The ISIA welcomes the new Arbitrators. All Arbitrator slots are filled, which should help move more cases through the system. In 2021, approximately 900 cases proceeded to trial and decision. With a full roster of Arbitrators and the current procedures in place, this number is expected to rise in 2022.
Finally, the ISIA would like to acknowledge the announced retirement of Arbitrator Molly Mason. Arbitrator Mason has presided over cases assigned to the Chicago docket. The ISIA thanks Arbitrator Mason for her years of dedicated service and wishes her well in her new life chapter.
By: Daniel J. Ugaste; St. Rep. 65th Dist.
Welcome to my introductory column for theISIA Newsletter. For purposes of introducing myself to those who do not know me, I have an interesting perspective on this topic, as I approach it both as a practicing Workers’Compensation attorney with over 33 years of experience and a State Representative. I will do my best to keep you fully apprised of events in Springfield concerning workers’compensation matters, as well as other matters of general interest to the State.
As this is an election year, it is usually the quieter of the two years in Springfield. Both the House and the Senate were scheduled to begin on January 4, 2022 and go through early to mid-April. Normally, session runs from mid-January through the end of May but with the delayed census results and delayed redistricting, the schedule has been altered. Unfortunately, due to COVID concerns, the House and the Senate only met for one day in early January and will not meet again until February. Leaving an even shorter time frame in which to accomplish work; although committees have been meeting remotely.
Regarding workers’ compensation, a few bills have recently been filed, moved to committee, or are awaiting hearing.
Two bills recently moved to the Senate Judiciary Committee were filed by Sen. Laura Murphy of Des Plaines. The first is SB 660. This bill would change the law concerning repetitive injury cases in workers’ compensation. Specifically, the bill states that any workers’ compensation claim resulting from repetitive trauma that occurs within six months after the employee begins his or her employment shall not be considered by the workers’ compensation insurer insetting a premium rate. It also allows for any employer that has to pay an award for repetitive trauma to seek contribution or reimbursement from the employee's prior employers to the extent the Commission determines they are liable. This would be allowed potentially under a separate cause of action for contribution or reimbursement before the Commission between two employers.
The second bill filed by Sen. Murphy is SB2234. This bill would allow the video recording of any examination of a Petitioner in either a Section 12 exam (Independent Medical Evaluation) or during an exam ordered by the Commission under Section 19(c) of the Act for hearings held under Sections 19(e) or 19(h), when theCommission believes it needs to order its own exam. Please note this is an extremely little used Section of the Act. Under the bill, in order for a video recording to be made, both the employee and the physician conducting the exam would have to consent.
Both bills were filed in 2021 and did not advance throughCommittee. In fact, neither has yet had any witnesses file in support of the bill.
Recently, Rep. Jay Hoffman(Belleville) filed HB 4630. This bill would apply mainly to municipalities and fire protection districts throughout the State. It involves a section of the Act dealing with rebuttable presumptions for various injuries, illnesses and diseases contracted by firefighters, emergency medical technicians or paramedics. It could also involve private fire services and or ambulance companies. Specifically, it would change the rebuttable presumption standard from an ordinary standard to a strong standard; thereby, requiring the employer to overcome the rebuttable presumption by proving through clear and convincing evidence that an independent and non-work-related cause for the condition exists and that no aspect of the employment contributed to the condition. Presently, under the ordinary standard, the employer need only submit some evidence that it did not occur at work to overcome the presumption. The bill further states that the rebuttable presumption relating to hearing loss can-not be overcome by showing the employee did not meet the minimum exposure thresholds set forth in other sections of the Workers’ Compensation Act.
This bill has yet to be assigned to Committee and will be monitored closely.
Finally, it should be noted that I have filed eight workers’ compensation reform bills myself. They would modify the Act in ways that would providing savings for employers, while still taking care of injured workers. These bills range from modifications to the Act for employee travel, credits for prior injuries, causation, returning the permanency rates for specific loss of use to pre-2005 levels, as well as creating a drug formulary.
To date, I have not been able to get a Committee hearing on these bills; however, I will continue to work towards this reasonable reform to help both employers and families in this State.
Other than the various bills which are passed yearly to ensure the State continues to function and operate, the only issue likely to get much attention in the Capitol will be public safety and violence prevention. Numerous committees and task forces are meeting to address this issue. It is still yet unclear what, if any, legislation will be passed.
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