Recently, the Democratic leaders in Springfield announced a series of measures designed to produce a environment in Illinois friendly to job creation. Among those measures: the creation of committees to study possible reforms in workers compensation, Medicaid, and education. While the top personal injury attorneys of Passen & Powell agree that these areas could be targets for meaningful reform designed to increase Illinois’ jobs, we are concerned about some of the areas of reform proposed for workers compensation. We can only hope that this reform will not be an excuse to scale back benefits for injured and disabled workers, one of the most vulnerable segments of our society.
There is no denying that workers compensation premiums in Illinois are too high. Illinois’ premiums are the third-highest in the nation, with only Montana and Alaska having higher premiums. And reducing premiums would be a wonderful incentive to attempt to lure businesses to the state, or to encourage them to remain.
To that end, there are any number of legitimate reforms that could be enacted. For example, the current system pays workers compensation benefits to workers who are injured while intoxicated or high on the job. Our personal injury attorneys heartily agree that this is an area for targeted reform. Likewise, we agree that costs could be reduced by eliminating payments for injuries that did not, in fact, occur while on the job. Such reforms are practical, common-sense measures that would reduce costs without unfairly hurting injured workers.
But many of the “reforms” proposed are not – or at least are not so clear cut. When some groups talk of workers compensation reform, what they actually mean is slashing benefits to injured and disabled workers. It is unjust, and shortsighted, to attempt to reduce the workers compensation premiums paid by employers by cutting benefits to injured workers. It is unjust because workers injured on the job, just like other injured victims, deserve to be compensated for their injuries. And it is shortsighted because the revenue generated by any job creation from lowered premiums will be lost when injured workers, unable to obtain needed compensation, end up on the state’s benefit rolls.
Likewise, one of the proposed “reforms” is to impose an arbitrary cut-off age for benefits, which currently run for the remainder of an injured worker’s lifetime. This is initially an appealing idea – why, after all, should an injured worker continue to receive benefits after social security or retirement benefits have begun?
As appealing as this proposal might be on the surface, however, our Chicago injury lawyers know better. The problem, of course, is that every injured worker’s case is different, and the effects of workplace injuries are not cut-and-dry. An injured worker who is disabled from his profession is often no longer able to contribute to retirement accounts. His salary no longer increases, so benefits under pension programs and social security remain flat and stagnant. And, at the end of the day, after his disability has left him unable to save towards retirement or pay off debts, social security will only cover a portion of his previous salary. Thus, arbitrarily cutting off workers compensation benefits at retirement age could lead, for many, to financial disaster.
We urge those assigned to study workers compensation reform to steer clear of the too-easy answer. There are many factors that must be considered before reforms are put in place – and the real-life ramifications for victims must be realistically assessed. We are confident that, if this is done, real reform can be accomplished without coming at the expense of the victims of workplace injury.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago personal injury attorney at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.