Assertive Advocates For Injured Workers

Amendments To the Workers Compensation Act June 28, 2011

On August 8, 2011 Governor Quinn signed another work-related bill. PA 97-276 amends Section 11 of the Act. This amendment denies compensation to a worker who has sustained injuries during the active commission of a forcible felony, aggravated DUI or reckless homicide. In other words, injuries do not arise out of an in the course of the employment if the employee was convicted of the crime and it resulted in severe injury or death to another person. This amendment is in response to the tragedy that occurred when Kelli and Jessica Uhl of Collinsville, Illinois died when their car was struck by an Illinois state trooper who was intoxicated. The state trooper plead

guilty to a felony and then went on to file a workers’ compensation case. It should be noted his case was tried before an arbitrator in southern Illinois who denied the petitioner’s claim on the basis that his recklessness and intoxication took him out of the scope of his employment. This bill was introduced by Senator Bill Haine and State Representative Dwight Kay to close any possible loophole that an arbitrator could find such a case scenario work related. This amendment is not retroactive.

The governor also signed into law PA 97-028 which amends Sections 1 and 8 of the Workers’ Compensation Act. It raises the population threshold from 200,000 to 500,000 for purposes of excluding municipal firefighters and police officers from workers’ compensation coverage.

Advisory Board

The governor and the new advisory board will be quite busy in their implementation of the amendments to the Workers’ Compensation Act which were signed by Governor Quinn on June 28, 2011.

The new Act terminated the prior advisory board calling for the governor to make new appointments. The advisory board has six employee representatives and six employer representatives. The governor has made those appointments and they will sit until confirmed or rejected by the Senate. The Senate will meet in October during the veto session. New members of the advisory board who are the employee representatives are Richard Alexi of Cordy, Alexi and Castaneda. Mr. Alexi is a frequent lecturer on workers’ compensation, author of numerous articles on workers’ compensation and prior president of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Association. Mark Prince of Prince Law Firm is located in Marion, Illinois and serves southern Illinois representing client for personal injuries and workers’ compensation injuries. He also serves on the Board of Managers of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association. Sean Stott is a member of the Laborers International Union of North America; he is director of governmental affairs. Their office is in Springfield, Illinois. He was previously the legislative director of the Illinois AFL-CIO. Michael Carrigan has been re‑appointed as an employee representative and is president of the Illinois AFL‑CIO. Aaron Anderson and Phillip Gruber have also been re‑appointed. Aaron Anderson has been reappointed and is director and representative for the Painters District Council No. 30 in Aurora representing people in the finishing trades. Phillip Gruber is general vice president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union. He has served on the board since 2009. Appointments for the employer representatives include David Vite. Mr. Vite is president and CEO of the Chicago-based Illinois Retail Merchants Association. Mr. Vite is the only returning employer representative. Rounding out the employer representatives are John Carpenter who is senior vice president of public policy for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Mark Denzler, vice president and chief operating officer of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, David Halffield, vice president of Sears Holdings Management Corporation and

William Lowry, a partner in the law firm of Nyhan, Bambrick, Kinzie and Lowry. Mr. Lowry is a seasoned defense attorney. He and his law firm are held in high regard by those practicing before and at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.

The advisory board will be chaired by Mitchell Weiss, chairman of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. Apparently their first order of business has been completed, in part. They have made recommendations to the governor regarding the re‑appointment of arbitrators at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. They must also pass on the applications of those attorneys who are not arbitrators but have applied to fill any vacancies. It is my understanding that the governor’s office has interviewed all of the arbitrators. Those arbitrators have also undergone rigorous questioning which has been in written form. The governor is free to accept or reject the advisory board’s recommendations. At the present time it is not known who or how many arbitrators will be replaced. By the time you read this we may know the answer as to who and how many.

There have been quotes in the newspaper that the reason for termination of all the arbitrators is to “shake up the cozy relationship between the attorneys and the arbitrators”. I haven’t appeared before an arbitrator in southern Illinois in 20 years so I cannot speak of how they interact with the attorneys. I can speak of the arbitrators north of Interstate 80. I believe the relationship between these arbitrators and the attorneys is not one of coziness but instead one of civility. We are a small-knit group. We appear before these arbitrators on a regular basis and we, more likely than not, know our opponents from a professional standpoint but also from a social point of view. Some of us have been associated with the arbitrator when they practiced law before the Commission. All are aquatints and some are friends. That does not diminish the integrity of the arbitrators or the attorneys who practice before them. I found it very unfortunate that the actions of very few have so drastically impacted so many others.

The chairman of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission has been ordered to reassign the cases outside of Cook County. Each venue shall have three arbitrators. This will require the chairman to consolidate call sites and formulate a plan that will implement the changes in the Workers’ Compensation Act. From my vantage point, none of the chairman’s choices will be good but I am certain he will make the best of the bad choices and it is hoped that we will be able to comment on that in our next newsletters.