Effective September 1, 2011, the Illinois Legislature enacted changes to Workers’ Compensation Law. These changes were a response to concerns of the business community that workers’ compensation insurance costs were higher in Illinois than in surrounding states, causing an exodus of business and jobs from Illinois. Of special focus in the legislation was the cost of an injured worker’s medical bills. This article will highlight some of the more prominent changes that have come into effect. (Those interested in reading the Law in its entirety should go to 820 ILCS 305/8.1a)

First, an employer can satisfy its obligation to provide medical treatment to an injured employee by utilizing a preferred provider program. Essentially this is a list of doctors within a network that the employee may choose from to obtain necessary medical services. Under prior Workers’ Compensation Law, an injured employee could choose any two doctors plus any referrals from them without a right of refusal by the employer. The change in law allows the employer greater control over the employee’s medical treatment.

Second, the extent of an injured employee’s permanent partial disability (the third and largest category of payment directly to the employee) will now include a finding by the treating doctor of a level of impairment based on the American Medical Association’s “Guide to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment.” Under prior law, no reference was made either to a level of impairment or to the AMA guidelines. Rather, permanent partial disability was determined by a treating doctor’s opinion, usually in the form of a medical report. This will continue to be a factor under the new law, to be considered along with the AMA impairment, the worker’s age, occupation and future earning capacity. Therefore, “No single factor shall be the sole determinant of disability.” The Arbitrator will be the person making the legal finding of disability.

Third, permanent partial disability awarded on the basis of wage differential, which under prior law continued throughout a person’s lifetime, now terminates when the employee reaches age 67, or five years after an award becomes final, whichever is later.

Fourth, the new law strictly limits disability from carpal tunnel syndrome, which now has an “advisory” limit of 15% loss, unless there is “clear and convincing evidence” that the award should exceed this amount, in which case the award should not exceed 30% loss of a hand. Under former law, disability from carpal tunnel syndrome was awarded along the same scale as an injury to any other body part, that is from 1% – 100% loss.

Fifth, the new law provides a defense if the employee’s intoxication is the proximate cause of the employee’s accidental injury, or if the employee was so intoxicated that this constituted a departure from the employment. If the employee refuses to submit to testing to determine the presence and concentration of alcohol and/or illegal drugs, a rebuttable presumption would exist that the employee was intoxicated and that the intoxication was a proximate cause of the injury.

The above rule changes make presentation of a workers’ compensation injury more difficult. The changes place even a greater premium on the skill of an attorney to obtain favorable results. The Chicago, Illinois Workers’ Compensation attorneys at Lipkin & Apter have more than 40 years combined experience representing persons injured on the job. Please feel free to contact us for a no obligation legal consultation to discuss your case and your rights.