A recent court decision determined that the City of Chicago did not intentionally cause injury to a fire department employee. The employee claimed that his employer understood that they were placing him at risk by forcing him to engage in strenuous physical activity with few water breaks, resulting in dehydration and kidney failure. In addition to a civil suit, this employee filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. Both medical and indemnity benefits were awarded.
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Is Seeking Workers’ Compensation Benefits and Civil Damages Considered “Double-Dipping?”
The ruling in this case would indicate that Illinois courts think so. Once the workers’ compensation award was finalized, the employer moved for summary judgment in the civil case. Their argument was that the award of workers’ compensation benefits negated any civil suit.
In Illinois, the Workers’ Compensation Act prohibits employees from recovering damages from an employer outside of what has already been recovered through workers’ compensation benefits. In order for these terms to be precluded, an employee must prove that the injury was not accidental, was not a result of employment, did not happen during the course of employment or was otherwise not eligible for compensation under the Act.
In this case, the employee argued that these exclusive remedy provisions did not negate his claim, because these were not accidental injuries. The court counter-argued that by claiming benefits, the employee acknowledged that the injuries were accidental, so the assertion that exclusive remedy provisions did not apply was counter to his initial claim.
While the court sided with the employer in this case, it serves as an example for injured employees. By resolving a workers’ compensation case prior to seeking civil damages, the risk of this sort of conflict can be minimized. A workers’ compensation lawyer Illinois can provide relevant information about these proceedings and how they work.
Setting a Precedent
Workers’ compensation issues are dominating headlines in Illinois, as of late. Reforming the Illinois’ workers’ compensation program has been a reoccurring discussion among lawmakers hoping to resolve budget issues. This has placed cases like the one discussed above in the spotlight. As these cases are analyzed closely by Illinois lawmakers, changes to the workers’ compensation system could very well be on the horizon.
In some rare cases, an injured employee can receive both workers’ compensation benefits and civil damages from an employer. In 1991, it was determined that if workers’ compensation payments are simply accepted, without an injured employee taking action before the Workers’ Compensation Commission, this is not a clear assertion that an injury or death is compensable under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act.
The Act is designed to provide for accidental injuries, rather than acts of intentional harm. Situations where civil rights laws are violated and an employer sought, for whatever reason, to inflict harm, are considered separately.
Points to Remember
It’s important to remember that while it might not be advisable to seek workers’ compensation benefits while actively seeking civil damages, an employee must both elect and receive workers’ compensation benefits to be barred from pursuing civil compensation. Simply filing a workers’ compensation claim does not prevent the recovery of funds under a civil suit if the benefits are not awarded. In certain cases, when an employee commits serious and willful misconduct, a workers’ compensation award will not be considered.
Those unable to work after an injury on the job may qualify for Illinois workers’ compensation benefits. In some cases, an employer can make light-duty work available to the injured employee. If the new position pays less than the original, benefits in the amount of 2/3 of the difference may be received.
There are also cases where a third-party is involved in a work-related injury. For example, a traveling employee who is involved in a vehicle accident while on the job and is injured, through no fault of their own, may be able to seek compensation from the driver of the vehicle found at fault, while still receiving workers’ compensation benefits. This could also be the case in certain slip and fall or construction site accidents, or if one is injured while using faulty equipment. These cases are different from those where one seeks civil damages from the employer, and the same laws regarding workers’ compensation do not apply.
Almost all Illinois employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance, and the insurance company is responsible for paying benefits to injured employees. It’s not uncommon for insurers to deny claims. When this happens, or when checks are not received or issued for an incorrect amount, an Illinois workers’ compensation attorney can be consulted to discuss legal options for receiving compensation.