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Creditors Cannot Touch Your Workers’ Compensation SettlementSuffering an injury at work can put you in an immediate financial bind. Although you can receive disability benefits if you are unable to work, those benefits are only two-thirds of what you normally make. Your expenses also go up if you need continued medical treatment for your injury. Without adequate health insurance to cover your treatment, you could end up owing hundreds of thousands of dollars to doctors. Injured workers rely on receiving workers’ compensation benefits in order to pay these expenses, but sometimes the debts pile up too fast before the worker can receive payment. If you file for bankruptcy, will you be able to keep your workers’ compensation benefits? A recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling confirmed that money awarded or settled upon in a workers’ compensation case is protected during bankruptcy from the healthcare providers that treated the injuries related to the workers' compensation case.

Protection for Your Compensation

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act includes a section stating that creditors cannot seize a debtor’s workers’ compensation award or settlement. Illinois and federal courts have long recognized that this section of the law works as an exemption when someone files for bankruptcy. The total benefits received in a workers’ compensation case can be used to pay for:

  • Medical expenses
  • Missing wages
  • Wage differential compensation
  • Vocational training

Recent Case

In the case of In re Elena Hernandez, a woman had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2016. Among her debts were $138,000 she owed to three medical practices that had treated an injury related to an ongoing workers’ compensation case. The woman listed her pending workers’ compensation claim as an asset and estimated its value at $31,000. She reached a settlement with her employer for approximately that amount two days after filing for bankruptcy. The three medical providers argued that the workers’ compensation settlement should not be exempt from them because of amendments made to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act in 2005. The revisions created new fee schedules for injuries and limited what providers could collect from employers. The providers claimed that the revisions created a new exception to the part of the act that exempted workers' compensation settlements from creditors.

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Why You Should Not Immediately Accept a Workers’ Compensation SettlementWhile workers’ compensation insurers will sometimes fight your claim in court, there are other times when they will be eager to offer you a settlement for your injuries. However, an immediate settlement may benefit them more than it benefits you. When an insurer knows they cannot avoid paying a claim, they will try to settle the claim as soon as possible so they know how much it will cost them. There are several reasons why you should wait before settling your workers’ compensation claim:

  1. You Do Not Know the Full Cost: There are more expenses related to a workplace injury than the cost of your initial treatment. You may need to pay for continued rehabilitation, and your doctor may discover other damage that requires additional treatment. You also must consider whether you may need disability pay for your missed time at work. Even after you return to work, it is possible that your injury will worsen, requiring you to miss more time. It may take months or years to know the full cost of your injury, and agreeing to an immediate settlement will prevent you from seeking additional compensation.
  2. The Insurer Is Not Giving Their Best Offer: It is common in negotiations for someone’s initial offer to be lower than what they expect they will have to pay. Workers’ compensation insurers have experience paying claims for injuries such as yours, which means they know how much it usually costs. They know how to make an initial offer that sounds reasonable but is actually much less than what you would receive if you took your claim to arbitration. Though they may talk tough if you reject their initial offer, they will likely return with a better offer.
  3. There Is No Rush to Reach a Settlement: You have three years after the date of your workplace injury to file a workers’ compensation claim, giving you plenty of time to understand the full extent and cost of your injury. The insurer may try to pressure you into accepting their settlement by giving you a deadline to respond, but it is highly unlikely that they will withdraw the offer because they would still rather settle than take the claim to court.

Contact a Crystal Lake, Illinois, Workers’ Compensation Attorney

You should not decide on whether you will negotiate a workers’ compensation settlement until you have consulted with an attorney. A McHenry County workers’ compensation lawyer at Botto Gilbert Lancaster, PC, can make sure you receive all of the benefits that you will need. To schedule a free consultation, call 815-338-3838.

Source:

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Illinois State Bar Association State Bar of Wisconsin Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce Illinois Trial Lawyers Association McHenry County Bar Association
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