FIRST RESPONDERS GUIDE to ILLINOIS INJURIES
Our respect for law enforcement and first responders goes deep. For over 25 years, the attorneys at Woodruff Johnson & Evans Law Offices have represented the rights of injured first responders and their families. We recognize that, as first responders protecting the public, you deserve dedicated advocates committed to protecting you after you suffer serious injuries in the line of duty. We understand the unique impact these injuries have on your ability to return to work. Our experienced legal team will help you like we have successfully helped thousands of others from all across the state of Illinois.
Qualifying For Benefits
To qualify for benefits under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, you must establish that you were injured in the course of your employment by a risk arising out of your employment. You must provide notice to your employer and file a claim in a timely fashion.
Course of Employment: The “course of” your employment speaks to the time and place you were injured. Generally, injuries occurring on company property are covered by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. Additionally, employees who travel as part of their employment frequently are covered during their travel. Employees are covered during their work hours and, depending on the nature of their employment, may be covered for a reasonable time before and after work.
Arising Out of Employment: An injury that occurs within the course of your employment also must “arise out of” your employment to be covered by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. Therefore, the mere fact that a condition or injury manifested itself while you were at work is not enough. You also must show that the injury was either caused, aggravated, or accelerated by some risk associated with your employment. This is a complicated area of the law often requiring the assistance of an attorney.
Illinois’ Rebuttable Presumption for Firefighters, EMTs, and Paramedics: Fortunately, the Illinois legislature recognized the numerous hazards faced not only by firefighters, but also EMTs and paramedics. In 2008, the legislature amended the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act to the benefit of firefighters, EMTs and paramedics. Specifically, Section 6(f) of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act provides that any condition or impairment of health of a firefighter, emergency medical technician, or paramedic that results directly or indirectly from:
• blood-borne pathogens;
• lung or respiratory disease or condition;
• heart or vascular disease or condition;
• hearing loss; or
is presumed to arise out of and in the course of their employment. However, this presumption, only applies to firefighters, EMTs and paramedics who have been on the job for five (5) or more years.
* The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act does not apply to City of Chicago police and firefighters.
Normally, the burden falls on the employee to prove their condition arose out of and in the course of their employment. Under the rebuttable presumption, the onus is on the employer to prove the condition did not arise from employment. If the employer does not present evidence to rebut this presumption, then the injured worker will be awarded workers’ compensation benefits.
NOTICE: You must give notice to your employer within 45 days of accident for an injury to be covered by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. This notice can be in writing or given orally. Notice should be given to an individual who holds a supervisory position over the employee. The employee is encouraged to give notice as soon as possible after the accident.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS: A claim for workers’ compensation benefits must be filed with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission within three years of the date of injury, or two years of the date of last workers’ compensation payment, whichever is later. Merely reporting or filling out forms with the employer does not satisfy this obligation. An actual “Application for Adjustment of Claim” must be filed with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission in Chicago, Illinois. Claimants are encouraged to use experienced legal counsel to assist in the filing of these claims. Call us toll free (866) 891-9211.
Once you have established that you have sustained an injury arising out of and in the course of your employment, you are entitled to three benefits: medical treatment; weekly lost time compensation (also known as temporary total disability); and permanent partial disability.
MEDICAL BENEFITS: An employer is required to pay for the reasonable and necessary medical treatment to cure the ill effects of an injury. An employee is not required to make co-payments or pay deductibles in connection with a work-related injury. Moreover, an employee has the right to choose his or her own doctor. However, this choice is limited. An individual has the right to choose two doctors and their referrals for treatment at the employer’s expense. If an employer has established an approved network of medical providers and has provided sufficient notice of this network to the employee, the employee can treat with two doctors and their referrals under this network. If the employee declines to treat with a doctor under this network, the employee is restricted to a choice of one doctor and his/her referrals.
PUBLIC EMPLOYEES DISABILITY ACT (PEDA): The Illinois Public Employees Disability Act covers police officers, firefighters, and certain other public employees who suffer injuries while in the line of duty which prevent them from performing their duties. Public employees covered by this Act are entitled to receive their full salary, tax-free, for up to 52 weeks. In addition to this pay, employees covered by the PEDA cannot lose their sick time, overtime, vacation time, or face a deduction of their service credits in a public employee pension fund.
If a duty disability continues for more than 52 weeks, the injured person is entitled to Temporary Total Disability (TTD) under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, like any other employee.
TEMPORARY TOTAL DISABILITY: If as a result of a work injury, an employee is either taken off work by a doctor or placed on work restrictions the employer cannot accommodate, the employer is required to pay workers’ compensation benefits at a rate equal to 2/3 of the employee’s average weekly wage for the period of time the employee is unable to return to work. An employee may be entitled to these lost time benefits even if the employee is laid-off or terminated by the employer. The Workers’ Compensation Act does not require employers to pay temporary total disability benefits for the first three days of missed work unless the employee misses a total of two weeks of work due to the injury.
PERMANENT PARTIAL DISABILITY: There are several types of permanent partial disability. When an individual sustains an injury but is able to resume his or her regular earning potential, such injuries are recognized to be a percentage loss of use of the scheduled body parts below:
First (index) Finger 43
Second (middle) Finger 38
Third (ring) Finger 27
Fourth (little) Finger 22
Great toe 38
Each other toe 13
Hand 190 or 205
Amputation above elbow 270
Amputation at shoulder joint 323
Amputation above knee 242
Amputation at hip joint 296
Enucleation of eye 173
Hearing loss of one ear 54
Hearing loss of both ears 215
Testicle – 1 54
Testicle – 2 162
Body as a whole 500
Compensation under this schedule is payable based on a percentage loss of use of each body part multiplied by 60 percent of the employee’s average weekly wage.
Additionally, employees are entitled to compensation for disfigurement (scarring), exposure to chemicals, death, permanent wage loss, or permanent total disability.
If you cannot resume your regular work activities, you may be entitled to vocational rehabilitation under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act at the employer’s expense.
PUBLIC SAFETY EMPLOYEES BENEFIT ACT: Illinois law provides additional protection to families of first responders who suffer catastrophic or fatal injuries. If a first responder suffers such an injury, the spouse and dependent children of such a person are entitled to 100% payment of the premiums to continue the group health insurance benefits. The benefits to the children continue until they reach the age of 18 or the age of 25 if the children are students enrolled in a full- or part-time accredited institution of higher learning.
Third Party Liability
First responders (firefighters, police officers, EMTs, etc.) face many dangerous situations when they respond to a call. Often risking their lives for the protection and rescue of others, these brave men and women encounter harm on a daily basis. While the Workers’ Compensation Act can often help to cover the injuries suffered by first responders, the question remains: is the person or entity that caused the accident or fire which brought the first responder to the scene in the first place also liable for any injury caused?
While the Workers’ Compensation Act bars filing a personal injury claim against your employer or co-workers, it does not prohibit you from filing a claim against a third party responsible for your injuries. Classic examples of third parties that can be held liable for your injuries include:
• Other drivers who crash into your squad car, fire truck, or ambulance;
• Homeowners who have a dangerous defect or condition on their property;
• Commercial/industrial property owners who have dangerous defects or conditions on their property; or
• A municipality with dangerous defects or conditions on its property.
The possibility of a third party personal injury case can be especially helpful to first responders who get insured because it allows for certain damages that the Workers’ Compensation Act does not provide for, such as:
• Past, present, and future pain and suffering caused by your injury; and
• Loss of normal life or the inability to enjoy your typical hobbies, chores, activities, etc. as during the time in which you are trying to recover from your injury.
Since there are no caps on these types of damages, the amount you could be entitled to may be substantial, depending on the extent and severity of your injuries.
Unfortunately, Illinois law has adopted a rule that will preclude you from pursuing a third party when responding to an emergency under certain circumstances. This is known as the Fireman’s Rule. Simply put, the Fireman’s Rule is that a fireman or other first responder can only recover from a third party where the first responder’s injuries are caused by an act of negligence independent of the reason the fireman or other first responder was called to the scene.
Fortunately, there is a significant limitation to this rule. As long as you can show that the reason you were injured was independent of the fire, crime scene, or other reason you were at the scene, the Fireman’s rule does not apply. Some cases where Illinois courts did not apply the Fireman’s rule include:
• A firefighter who was injured when standpipes malfunctioned, causing an explosion. The standpipes did not have water. When the firefighter attempted to connect the hose to the pipe, the buildup of gases and pressure caused an explosion. The court considered the defect with respect to the standpipes to be independent of the fire the firefighter was there to put out.
• A firefighter who died as a result of inhaling dangerous levels of carbon monoxide fumes from a grain bin. Although the fireman was at the property because of the dangerous carbon monoxide levels, the Fireman’s rule also imposes a duty to warn of latent dangerous conditions which pose an unreasonable risk of harm. Because there was no way the firefighter would have known how high the level of carbon monoxide was, it triggered a duty on the landowner to warn and/or protect him from that harm.
There are many avenues by which you as a first responder can recover from a third party when you are injured responding to a call. Third party claims further compensate you above and beyond the Workers’ Compensation Act. It is important to begin investigating the potential for third party liability right away so that you can discover all of the appropriate persons and entities who may be responsible for your injury.
SOME OF OUR SUCCESS STORIES
Our law firm has represented first responders from across the State of Illinois. Some of our representative success stories include outstanding settlements, verdicts, and awards on behalf of:
• A central Illinois sheriff injured while subduing a detainee
• A west suburban police officer seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident
• A fire lieutenant who suffered hearing loss as the result of a career exposure to excessive noise
• A central Illinois police officer struck by a drunk driver
• An EMT who suffered arm injuries when his defective stretcher malfunctioned
• A southern Illinois police officer who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after coming under sniper fire
• A City of Chicago detention aide who suffered permanent disfigurement to her arm after being bitten by a detainee
Our office recently expanded Illinois law and the benefits available to first responders when representing a west suburban police officer who herniated a disc in his back. The officer was injured while lifting his duty bag at home as he was leaving for work. The department fought responsibility for the injury since the officer had not yet arrived at the station when the injury occurred. We successfully argued that lifting the duty bag was a necessity of the job and therefore should be covered by workers’ compensation. An Arbitrator of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission agreed. The police department appealed. A three member Appellate Commission panel agreed. The department appealed. The Circuit Court agreed. The department appealed. The Illinois Appellate Court agreed. The department appealed. Finally, the Supreme Court refused to hear further appeals by the department. The case now stands as law. It was a long but a worthwhile battle fought on behalf of those who do so much for us: the men and women of law enforcement.
We currently represent an Illinois State trooper struck by an intoxicated motorist while issuing a citation on the shoulder of the tollway. The young trooper was six months on the job and has undergone multiple surgeries.
We currently represent an Illinois Department of Corrections officer who recently had successful knee replacement surgery. His knee was injured in an altercation with an inmate. While the DOC took responsibility for the officer’s initial knee surgery, it refused to authorize his knee replacement, arguing it was due to a preexisting arthritic condition. At arbitration, we established that the trauma aggravated the underlying arthritic condition, hastening the need for the knee replacement, making it the Department of Corrections’ responsibility. The Arbitrator agreed and the guard is currently recovering from successful knee replacement surgery.
The above are a few of the representative cases we are working on behalf of police officers, firefighters, and the paramedics/EMTs that often sacrifice their safety in the name of protecting ours. Each case is unique. Call today for a free consultation regarding yours.