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Governor Rauner Targets Workers Compensation Reform With “Turnaround Agenda”

| Jan 24, 2016 | Workers’ Compensation

Workers compensation reform is a hot button topic for states around the country. Businesses blame strict liability statutes for high insurance premiums, and claim workers compensation drains them of the capital needed to expand or create new jobs. Employers believe limiting their exposure will fuel rapid growth and bring jobs back to the state.

Governor Bruce Rauner ran on a platform centered on his “Turnaround Agenda”, a set of proposals that would reinvigorate Illinois’ economy. He wants to create a more favorable climate for business that lowers the risk of lawsuits, encourages businesses to invest in the state, and rewards risk taking. At the top of his agenda are a set of reforms that would bring radical changes to the work done by a workers compensation attorney in Chicago.

Employer Liability and Causation

The most important issue facing business, according to Rauner, is the amount of liability they face. Recent decisions by the Illinois Supreme Court and the state judicial system reaffirmed the liability employers must face when an employee is injured on the job.

Under the current law, employers are responsible for workplace injuries if the injury is related to the job in any way. According to Rauner, this exposes businesses to compensation claims when an employee aggravates a pre-existing injury or when an injury is only indirectly related to the employee’s job.

Rauner’s proposal would change the standard for liability from “any cause” to a much more stringent “major contributing cause”. With the change, a workers compensation attorney in Chicago would have to prove the employer is more than 50 percent at fault for the accident, and considers all other contributing factors.

At the moment, Illinois is 30th in terms of causation standards for determining liability for workers compensation. Other Midwestern states, like Missouri and Kansas, have toughened their guidelines, and pending legislation in other states would mirror Rauner’s plan.

The proposed changes would radically limit the number of cases a workers compensation attorney in Chicago could pursue. Injured employees will struggle to meet the burden of proof to show the required causal relationship, and the employee’s lifestyle, medical history, and pre-existing conditions will be used as justification to deny compensation.

Traveling Employees

The Illinois Supreme Court lowered the requirements to qualify as a traveling employee over the last decade. Where once the definition only included employees who traveled for a significant portion of their workday as a requirement of their job, new definitions expanded to cover employees as they traveled to their job. Recent decisions allowed workers to receive compensation as traveling employees for falling on their way to work, or while entering the building. The expansion of the definition put employers at much greater risk for compensation claims.

Rauner proposed a return to a strict definition of traveling employees. The new statute would define a traveling employee as someone who must travel as a requirement of their employment, is compensated for their travel expenses by their employer or has access to a company vehicle while traveling. Compensation may only occur for injuries sustained during the employee’s travels on behalf of the business.

Analysis by a workers compensation attorney in Chicago reveals the statute would severely reduce compensation for traveling employees. Infrequent travel, short daily trips required by the job, and injuries sustained while traveling on foot would no longer be covered by workers compensation.

Fee Payments

Illinois pays some of the highest fees for medical services related to workplace injuries of any state in the country. Rauner argues that rampant corruption and abuse in the system lead to overcharging businesses for procedures arising out of workplace injuries. He argues that surgery costs are more than 300 percent higher than the national average, while radiology and emergency services cost almost double what other states pay.

New guidelines would substantially reduce the fee schedule for anyone injured on the job. Rauner proposes a 30 percent reduction in the fee schedule across the board, with a few exceptions for primary doctor’s visits and physical therapy. Rauner believes that lowering the fee schedule will force medical professionals and hospitals to rein in their charges, and the savings for the state, employers, and employees could be as high as 20 percent.

Lowering the fee schedule could cause serious problems for injured employees as hospitals and doctors adjust to the new payments. Patients may find themselves paying the difference between the fees charged for the services, and the compensation mandated by the state. Continuing costs, such as those for pain medication and recovery services, could climb to highs beyond what injured employees could pay.

Updates to the workers compensation guidelines are part of a larger debate about the economic future of Illinois and will continue to be a major point of disagreement between Rauner and the state legislature.