In Illinois, workers compensation is a no-fault system designed to provide compensation to employees who experience injuries or diseases related to their job. This system is operated by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission and involves an arbitrator who is assigned to decide the case. The decision of the arbitrator may later be reviewed by a panel of commissioners.
When a worker is injured or becomes sick, it is very common for the employer to begin to pay benefits to the injured worker for lost time from work or to pay for medical bills and expenses (see our topic titled “Who’s on my side?" to learn why many employers do this). But these payments do not mean that a workers compensation claim has been filed. As a matter of fact, it would be highly unusual for an employer to file a claim for an employee at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.
So you should never assume that your employer has filed a claim for you. It is up to you or your lawyer to file such a claim and your failure to properly file a claim with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission within certain “statutes of limitation" (time limits) will result in the permanent loss of your right to an order for future benefits (compensation). Depending on the nature of your injury or illness, different time limitations for filing may apply, so you should act quickly.
In order to file a claim and protect your rights to receive future benefits, a claim must therefore be filed within the allotted time. This claim is called the “Application for Adjustment of Claim" and must be filed with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission along with another paper called the “Proof of Service". The Proof of Service states that the Application for Adjustment of Claim has been given to the employer. There presently are no fees to file such a claim. But only when these documents have been properly filed will your rights be protected.
Keep in mind that even if you have already accepted some payments from your employer for the injury or disease, it does not mean that you have given up your right to file a claim. Similarly, just because an employer has made some payments does not mean that they cannot later dispute your claim.
Like any other area of the law, it is not required for an injured employee to hire an attorney to represent them before the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. But an injured worker should keep in mind that their best interests and those of their employer are simply not the same. The worker needs to do what is best for themselves and their families, whereas the employer is concerned with other matters. Of equal importance, the laws concerning workers compensation have become more and more complicated over the years.
It takes an experienced attorney to determine the maximum compensation that an injured employee is entitled to. Those employees who try to handle the claim themselves often find it very difficult to determine whether the settlement being offered by the employer is a fair one or whether they are being taken advantage of. A claimant should also know that the fees that a workers compensation attorney charges are only paid if the attorney is successful and these attorney fees are generally limited under the law to a reasonable amount no greater than 20%. That is significantly less than the percentage that lawyers usually charge for other injury matters. For these reasons, most injured employees find that hiring an attorney to protect their rights is the best idea for themselves and their families.