1. Do Report Your Injury to Your Employer Immediately
The Illinois Workers' Compensation Act provides that an injured worker has 45 days to report an accident to his or her employer. In a typical case, such as slipping on oil or feeling a "pop" in your lower back while lifting, this is relatively straight forward. However, in a repetitive trauma claim - where the injury occurred over time rather than in a single incident, the courts look not to the date of injury, but rather the manifestation date - when the relationship between the work and the injury would be plainly apparent to a reasonable person. To be on the safe side, if you believe you have suffered a work-related injury, report it to your employer immediately.
2. Do Obtain Medical Treatment As Soon As Possible
Seeking medical treatment for a work-related injury can be crucial in proving your claim for benefits. The arbitrators and commissioners who may be called upon to determine if you have met your burden of proof will look at when you sought treatment. If you were injured while moving parts before Thanksgiving, but decide to "tough it out" until St. Patrick's Day, there is a good chance your claim will be viewed with suspicion. The implication is that there was an intervening accident - something that happened away from work, between the date of your injury and the date you sought treatment, that resulted in your need for medical treatment.
3. Do Explain Your Job Duties To Your Doctor
Because of the nature of workers' compensation, doctors are often involved. But doctors are often not concerned with the cause of the injury - their focus in on the best medical treatment available. But to meet your burden of proof it is often necessary for a physician to offer their opinion on the causation between the employment and the injury. Make this process easier on your doctor. Explain your job duties in detail and ensure every doctor you see understands how you were injured.
4. Do Understand Your Right of Medical Care
The Illinois Workers' Compensation Act provides that a worker injured on the job has the right to treat with their own doctor and the right to two choices of physicians, which in practice means two chains of referrals. For example, if you develop carpal tunnel syndrome from repeated use of vibratory tools, there is a good chance your family doctor will send you for tests (such as an EMG) and then refer you to a hand surgeon. This only counts as one chain of referral. You are entitled to two chains in this regard. But if you elect to seek further medical treatment on your own, without a referral, you may run the risk of exceeding your allowable choices under the Act. Your employer may not be responsible for paying for this treatment if you exceed your choices.
5. Do Understand This is an Adversarial Process
Many injured workers' assume that they are automatically entitled to workers' compensation. The law in Illinois provides that an injured worker must prove by a preponderance of the credible evidence that their injury arose out of and in the course of their employment. In other words, the employee must establish that their injury occurred at work - the burden of proof is on the worker. The employer has no duty to prove that the injury did not happen at work. Employers and their insurance companies will defend claims vigorously.
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