Changes To Workers' Compensation Act Increase Benefits, Make Workplace Safer

Past issues of this article have dealt with the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act. On July 20, 2005 Governor Blagoviech signed House Bill 2137 into law, amending certain portions of the Act in several key ways. This article will focus on just a few of those changes. These changes will help promote a safe workplace, ensure worker's receive the benefits they deserve and punish those who seek to abuse the system.

ADDED BENEFITS AND PENALTIES

The new amendment increases benefits to injured workers in the area of death benefits and specific loss of body parts. Also, penalties have been increased for an employer who without good cause neglects, refuses or unreasonably delays in the payment of benefits.

Previously, when an employee died as a result of an on the job injury, the Act provided the spouse or direct heir of the decedent received either a total pay out of $250,000 or payments for 20 years, which ever was the greater payout. Now, the Act increases the benefits to the greater of either $500,000 or 25 years of payments.

The Act specifically itemizes for the loss of certain body parts. When an award is made to an injured worker, it is usually itemized in terms of the percentage of that injured body part's worth. The award is based on the average weekly wage, multiplied by the weeks allotted and the percentage awarded. Under the amended Act, the weeks allotted for a body part have been increased, thus increasing the recovery. Many times workers have legitimate compensation claims, but their employer refuses to make payments or engages in unreasonable delay. Penalties have always been available under Section 19(k) of the Act. The new amendment stiffens those penalties. The daily penalties have been tripled from $10 a day to $30 a day. The maximum penalties that can be imposed have quadrupled from $2500 to $10,000.

PREVENTING ABUSE OF THE SYSTEM

The Workers' Compensation Act is not just about making payments on individual claims, its about ensuring just compensation is available for all, should the unfortunate happen. In this light, the amendment to the Act seeks to compel employers to carry workers' compensation insurance.

Failure to carry workers' compensation insurance now exposes an employer to criminal liability. Knowingly failing to carry insurance is a Class 4 felony. Negligent failure to carry insurance is a Class A misdemeanor.

The Illinois Attorney General is empowered to investigate and prosecute violations of this section of the Act and collect fees. These fees are then used, in part, to establish the Injured Workers' Benefit Fund that shall be used only to provide compensation to injured employees of an employer who failed to provide insurance coverage.

Finally, the amended Act provides criminal penalties for an employee who intentionally makes a false claim or an employer who intentionally makes a fraudulent misrepresentation in an effort to deny workers' compensation benefits. Such actions are now punishable as a Class 4 felony, which, if imposed on an individual, can mean over one year in prison.

The increase penalties and abuse prevention will benefit both employees and employers. If you have any questions about workers' compensation benefits, please contact one of our attorneys at 312-324-0409.