For the injured worker, achieving workers’ compensation benefits should be simple. Many, at first, assume it will require just a few phone calls and some paperwork. And yet, seldom is it as easy as it should be. The required red-tape can seem designed to discourage rather than help an injured worker. And this becomes even more complicated when your employer or workers’ compensation insurance provider opposes your claim. Each claim costs them money, and regardless of how justified your claim, their policy is often to automatically block or limit it. In fact, a recent case in Illinois highlighted too well the type of tangled ploys an injured worker can face when fighting for their benefits.
In December 1998, Melinda Jacobo was injured at work when a forklift backed into her. Eventually, Jacobo sought arbitration, asking for an adjustment of her workers’ compensation claim and seeking penalties and attorney’s fees for her employer’s failure to pay her benefits in a timely manner. Illinois law allows, under certain circumstances, for fines to be levied against employers or insurance carriers who delay or fail to pay awarded benefits. The arbitrator awarded Jacobo with temporary total disability benefits (TTD), permanent total disability benefits (PTD), and medical expenses. The arbitrator also agreed that Jacobo’s employer had “unreasonably delayed” in paying benefits, and granted the petition for penalties.
Jacobo’s employer appealed this decision, but was only partially successful. In 2007, the Commission reversed the award of penalties and fees, but reaffirmed Jacobo’s TTD, PTD and medical expenses award. In response, Jacobo opted to appeal the overturning of her penalties award. As she had retained her benefits awards, however, they were not a part of the appeal.
And yet, a year later in 2008, the employer had still failed to pay the undisputed benefits awarded to Jacobo. Multiple requests for payment by her attorney had no effect. During that time, Jacobo’s request to reinstate the penalties award was granted, but was again overturned on appeal by her employer.
Still, with no payment for her undisputed benefits award forthcoming, Jacobo was forced to file a second petition for penalties for another “unreasonable and vexatious” delay. In 2009, the employer finally paid the undisputed amount for TTD, PTD and medical expenses.
Now, at question was the legitimacy of the second petition for penalties. Astonishingly, the employer argued that they were not required to pay Jacobo’s workers’ compensation awards until all petitions had been settled. Because she appealed the decision regarding the penalties, her employer considered it their right to delay any and all award payments. However, the Appellate Court noted that all appeals by Jacobo and the employer after the initial 2007 Commission decision never disputed her benefit awards, only the award for penalties and fees. They were, therefore, two separate issues. The court found in favor of Jacobo, stating that “the employer’s feigned ignorance of what issues were contested in the claimant’s appeal is not a reasonable justification to delay the payment of the uncontested portion of the award,” and that their “delay in paying the uncontested award in the present case served no purpose except to delay compensation to an injured worker, a result that the penalties are designed to prevent.”
Sadly, this convoluted case highlights that injured workers are still often forced to jump enormous legal hurdles to achieve the benefits they deserve. For many, the effort required to fight for their benefits can seem insurmountable. They do not, however, have to do this alone. If you’ve been injured, contact a Chicago workers compensation attorney who will fight for the benefits you deserve.
About the Author: Brooke Haley is a Marketing Associate at Millon & Peskin, Chicago workers compensation lawyers that practice in the areas of Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury. Millon & Peskin is a General Civil Litigation Practice with the goal of representing the interests of injured workers, throughout all applicable Courts in the State of Illinois. For more information about Illinois workers compensation attorney,please visit www.millonpeskin.com.