The Illinois Chamber of Commerce is ramping up efforts to reform the state’s workers’ compensation system, issuing a report today that takes aim at specific judges and court opinions for “activism” that the business group says has badly hurt the state’s economy.
In a 74-page report called “The Impact of Judicial Activism in Illinois,” the chamber details 19 cases in which it says decisions by the Illinois Industrial Commission that would have limited payments to injured workers instead were overturned or otherwise weakened by appellate and supreme court justices.
As a result, it says, at least some of the benefits promised in a major workers’ comp package adopted by the Legislature two years ago have not arrived. As my colleague Paul Merrion recently reported, medical payments for workers’ compensation dropped just 4.6 percent last year, even though Illinois has ranked near the top of the 50 states in system costs.
* But the chairman of the Workers’ Comp Commission Michael Latz hotly disputes that earlier Crain’s report. From an e-mail with emphasis in the original…
In reporting that the reform resulted in total pre-claim payments being reduced by only one percent, Crain’s relied on a report which only looked at injuries which occurred before the reform went into effect. On page 13 of the Workers Compensation Research Institute’s (WCRI) Benchmark Study for Illinois, WCRI reports that “overall cost per claim with more than seven days of lost time decreased 1 percent between 2010 and 2011.” As indicated in the sidebar of the WCRI graph, the medical data reported reflected only 7 months of services under the new fee schedule rates and, therefore, the results show a partial impact. The data does not report on injuries which occurred after September 1, 2011 – therefore the effects of the AMA impairment ratings are not considered. The Crain’s report also neglected to mention that WCRI also reports: “The maturity of the data does not allow for the assessment of the indemnity impact from the 2011 reforms, which is why the sidebar of the chart clarified that the impact was likely related to the economic recovery.”
Insurance industry actuaries excel at assessing data – and the actuaries report that the 2011 reform is working. The 2011 reform of the Workers Compensation Act has resulted in the National Council on Compensation Insurance recommending reductions in insurance premiums each of the last two years. Those reductions in the advisory rates for insurance premiums – which come to about $315 million in savings for businesses so far – are a better indication of how the 2011 reform is working than the early study which looked at injuries occurring before the reform was in effect. If Crain’s wants to be accurate, it can learn from the sports editors and wait at least until the eighth inning before predicting outcomes.
* Back to Crain’s…
The chamber does not want Illinois to join a “race to the bottom” in which injured workers are left to fend on their own, Mr. Whitley said. “I don’t want us to be Indiana.”
But Illinois has the fourth-highest premiums of the 50 states, when it used to be “somewhere in the middle, 24th or 26th or so.” As a result, employers in Illinois now pay $10.10 more in workers’ comp costs per $1,000 in salary than an employer in Florida and $12.30 more than an employer in Texas, he said.
* Anyway, the Chamber’s report can be read by clicking here. One of the cases cited in the report…
Mlynarczyk v. Illinois Workers Compensation Commission, 2013 IL App (3d) 120411WC.
In Mlynarczyk the Appellate Court unanimously ruled that a cleaning lady employed by a janitorial service to clean churches, offices and residences was a traveling employee because she did not work at a fixed job site and her duties required her to travel to various locations in the Chicago area.The Court held that injuries resulting when she slipped and fell on snow and ice at home as she was walking to the vehicle in her driveway that would transport her to her next cleaning assignment were compensable because, as a traveling employee, her “walk to the minivan constituted the initial part of her journey to her work assignment” and was both reasonable and foreseeable.
* Another case…
Cox v. Illinois Workers Compensation Commission, 406 Ill. App. 3d 541, 941 N.E.2d 961, 347 Ill.Dec. 92 (1st Dist. 2010).
In Cox, the Appellate Court applied the traveling employee doctrine to and that it was foreseeable that an employee, assigned an employer-owned vehicle 24/7, would use the truck to perform a personal errand. The Court agreed that the errand constituted a personal deviation from the employee’s scope of employment. However, the Court ruled the deviation was “insubstantial”because the claimant had completed his errand and was on the way home when he was injured in an automobile accident.
Consequently, the injuries sustained by the employee while he was conducting personal business were compensable.
* And my own, personal “favorite”…
Circuit City Stores v. Illinois Workers Compensation Commission, 391 Ill. App. 3d 913, 909 N.E.2d983, 330 Ill. Dec. 961 (2d Dist. 2009).
In Circuit City, the Appellate Court ruled that injuries sustained by an employee who shoulder-butted a vending machine in order to help a co-worker dislodge a bag of chips were compensable under the Good Samaritan doctrine adopted by the Illinois judiciary. In the past, the Good Samaritan concept has been used to provide benefits where employees left the scope of employment and were injured in efforts to provide assistance to another person in urgent or life-threatening situations. The Court held that “what the Circuit City case lacked in urgency, it made up for in familiarity and collegiality.”