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Work Injuries Can Extend Beyond Normal Working HoursInjuries that are covered by workers’ compensation insurance extend beyond what many employees realize. For instance, you may believe that you needed to be working “on the clock” for an injury to be work-related. Your employer’s responsibility for your health can continue even after your official work hours. The workers’ compensation insurance provider will likely contest any injury claim that occurs outside of your paid hours or the workplace. This should not discourage you from filing for workers’ compensation benefits.

Qualifying for Benefits

Job requirements can dictate your actions beyond your documented working hours. Many employees are required or compelled to take their work home with them or perform work-related tasks after work. Even the requirement to travel to and from a work site can potentially expose you to danger. When wondering whether an injury is work-related, you should ask:

  • Was I performing a task that was required as part of my job?;
  • Was my employer benefitting from my actions?;
  • Was my employer aware or could my employer have been expected to be aware that I was at a work site during my free time?;
  • Does my employer own or maintain the property where the injury occurred?; and
  • Would I have been in the situation that caused my injury if not for my work?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, it is worth exploring whether your injury would qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.

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New Illinois Law Would Allow Latent Injury Claims Past Statute of ReposeThe Illinois General Assembly has passed legislation that extends the opportunity to receive compensation when people suffer from work-related occupational diseases. If signed by the governor, the law would allow plaintiffs to file civil lawsuits against employers if the statute of repose for workers’ compensation has expired. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that workers’ compensation was the only recourse for people seeking compensation for occupational diseases and that the 25-year statute of repose is a strict time limit for when a plaintiff must file a claim. The new law would effectively circumvent that ruling.

Occupational Diseases

Unlike most workplace injuries, an occupational disease develops from long-term exposure to a contaminant and not from a specific event. Common causes of occupational diseases include:

  • Exposure to radioactive materials; and
  • Inhalation of harmful substances, such as asbestos.

The period of repose is the length of time after the worker’s last known contact with the contaminant that a plaintiff has to file a workers’ compensation claim. Depending on the cause of the occupational disease, the statute of repose could be as little as two years or as long as 25 years. However, it can take years to decades for a worker to become aware of an occupational disease, such as cancer or respiratory diseases.

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Ways Your Employer May Try to Fire You After a Workers' Compensation ClaimYour employer cannot fire you in retaliation for you filing a workers’ compensation claim. Doing so would allow you to file a wrongful termination lawsuit and could also result in criminal penalties against your employer. However, your employer can legally terminate your employment after you have filed a workers’ compensation claim if there is another reason for your termination. If you believe that your employer is punishing you for your injury claim, you must document your employer’s actions as evidence of their retaliation.

Reasons for Firing

Most employers are smart enough to not tell you that they are firing you because of your workers’ compensation claim. However, your employer could be looking for an excuse to fire you that they can say was unrelated to your claim. Valid reasons to terminate your employment could include:

  • Misconduct on your part;
  • Layoffs due to a declining budget;
  • Not having a job that can accommodate your physical restrictions after you have reached maximum medical improvement; or
  • You refusing to accept a new position with your employer that accommodates your needs.

Firing you would not let your employer’s insurer off the hook for your workers’ compensation claim. You could still receive a settlement and benefits for your injury. Instead, your employer may be trying to replace you with a healthy employee who has no work restrictions.

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Farm Owners Have Different Rules for Workers' CompensationAgricultural work has the potential to cause serious or fatal injuries, but workers compensation benefits may not be available in some cases. Illinois’ Workers’ Compensation Act states that it does not apply to owners of agricultural enterprises unless they have employees who work a combined 400 working days per fiscal quarter. Immediate family members of the owner do not count as employees if they live with the owner. Thus, the owner of a small farm is not required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance if he or she employs only a few helpers who do not work the required number of hours. This does not change the inherent dangers that come with agricultural work, including:

  1. Operating Hazardous Equipment: Farmers regularly use sharp tools that can cause serious cuts or lost appendages. They have power tools and heavy machinery that are dangerous if they malfunction or are not used properly. Large vehicles such as tractors are a threat to roll over when being driven or overturn when idle.
  2. Slips and Falls: Farmers may need to climb up ladders when working, which has the potential for fall-related injuries. The working area has many obstacles that can trip a worker and substances that may make the floor slippery. A worker may suffer further injury if he or she falls onto a piece of equipment.
  3. Grain Silos: Suffocation is a serious threat when working in a grain storage bin. Shifts in a pile of grain may cause it to collapse on a worker. Grain can behave like quicksand, making it difficult to escape from. An accumulation of grain dust can cause an explosion if it comes in contact with a heat source.
  4. Contaminants: Farmers may work with chemicals such as pesticides, which can be hazardous to humans. Working with animals may expose a farmer to diseases and infections. Long-term exposure to dust and chemicals in the air may cause chronic respiratory problems.

Contact a Crystal Lake Workers’ Compensation Attorney

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act’s exception for farm owners may not apply if your duties on a farm include more than agricultural work. Being hired to do construction or equipment maintenance may fall outside the legal definition of agricultural work.

Farm owners can still carry workers’ compensation insurance or farm liability coverage even if they are not required to. A McHenry County workers’ compensation attorney at Botto Gilbert Lancaster, PC, can help you receive compensation for your farm-related injury. To schedule a free consultation, call 815-338-3838. 

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When Do You Need Witnesses for a Workers' Compensation Claim?You are the primary witness in your workers’ compensation case and the only necessary witness in many cases. In Illinois, you are not required to prove that anyone was negligent in order to receive workers’ compensation benefits. The arbitrator or court that is deciding your case needs to know that your injury occurred during the course of your work or as a consequence of your work duties. You may need other witnesses if your employer is casting doubt on the cause or extent of your injury. However, live testimony may be unnecessary even in these cases.

Expert Witnesses

Every workers’ compensation case should include records of all of your medical treatments and diagnosis of your physical condition. You can also call your physicians or a vocational expert as witnesses to testify during your case about:

  • The severity of your injuries;
  • Disabilities that resulted from your injuries; and
  • How your injury or disability will affect your ability to work.

Expert witnesses will often charge large fees in order to testify for a case. You should determine whether live testimony is necessary before you pay for an expert witness. Detailed reports from these experts may contain all of the information you need to establish your medical condition and future work limitations.

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