What did Blago do to the WC system in IL? Well, there is no question the fabric of the system was torn and repairs may be ongoing.
In 2002, Blagojevich was locked in a three-way primary fight and the race was basically a toss-up. Blago met with the aggressive millionaire Plaintiff lawyers from Madison and St. Clair County and struck a deal—they would give him their full support in the primary and he would give them political control of the IWCC. We want our readers to understand there is nothing illegal about such a transaction—it just stinks to see government agencies become chess pieces in elections. Well, we all know what happened. Blago’s roots were in Chicago but he magically got 55% of the vote in southern IL and won the primary. He then trounced Jim Ryan in the gubernatorial election and took office. After the 2002 elections, Illinois Democrats took control of the Governor’s mansion, the Illinois Supreme Court along with the Illinois House, Senate, and all but one statewide office. Illinois Democrats have retained plenary control of all three branches of Illinois government for about a decade and have recently won a redistricting fight that may keep them in control for years to come.
As fast as the election came to a close, we “suddenly” had the first IWCC chairman from Madison County in Illinois history, a claimant lawyer with no prior administrative or government experience. As fast as he landed, he and his other managers
· Changed the name of the place from “Industrial Commission” to “Workers’ Compensation Commission”
· Changed the funding in a scheme borrowed from Missouri where business pays a workers’ comp levy—the money to run the IWCC doesn’t come from the taxpayers but from business;
· The secret-powers-that-be used the new money to more than triple the budget of the IWCC and start funding new benefits;
· They also used the money to start hiring lots of Plaintiff-Petitioner attorneys as Arbitrators and Commissioners;
· Existing Arbitrators who might be mildly conservative were told to start towing the new liberal party line or find other employment;
· Tried to pass the 2004 Amendments to the IL WC Act that lots of business observers, including KC&A helped put the kibosh on; and
· Passed the 2005-6 Amendments to the IL WC Act which they actually trumpeted as supposedly saving Illinois business money
We are still chagrined to remember and recount of all it. As quickly as the 2005-6 Amendments were passed, IL WC benefits began to rise to the point they are considered the highest in the United States (if you skip Montana and Alaska where the number of folks eligible for WC benefits are few and far between). News of the spiraling WC costs brought the 2011 Amendments to the IL WC Act that basically put the thumbscrews to doctors and hospitals with some promise in cost-cutting on other fronts. The “other fronts” will show diminished benefits if and only if the IWCC administrators want them diminished. The ball is clearly in the air on that one--no one has any true idea if this “shaken but not stirred” IWCC administration will bring benefit levels down a dime. We are watching new decisions very closely and will continue to report.
We are still hoping global coverage for any injury that ever occurs is going to stop with defined and sensible limits on
1. “Repetitive work” claims where everything anyone does at work magically “aggravates” or accelerates any pre-existing/existing problem including conditions of life and aging; and
2. The now impossibly expanded “traveling employee” concept where no one knows what “traveling” might be but once you deign anyone as “traveling” every activity of daily life that such a worker does when they leave their home until they return is now a compensable “accident.”
On the judicial side, the Illinois Supreme Court didn’t truly have any direct relationship to what happened with Blago and his shenanigans but there is no question the Court matched the new Democratic bent of this State and probably rode in on Blago’s crooked coattails to some extent. Our highest court became very, very Pro-Plaintiff and remains that way today. As we have advised, the forces of ITLA have a very strong role in judicial fundraising and we have heard rumors the newly elected or recently retained justices and judges remember who donates monies to their successful campaigns. What does this have to do with WC? Well, the IL Supreme Court controls the make-up of what became the five-member Workers’ Compensation Division of the Appellate Court.
Right after Blago got into office, the Workers’ Compensation Division of the Appellate Court issued two decisions considered by defense observers to be solid and well-reasoned denials. In Twice Over Clean v. IWCC, the Appellate Court denied benefits to a claimant who suffered a heart attack basically because his own doctor stated his arteries were 95% occluded (blocked) and claimant could have suffered the attack brushing his teeth. In Sisbro v. IWCC, the Appellate Court denied benefits to a claimant whose badly diseased ankle snapped in the act of stepping down from a truck. The Appellate Court pointed out claimant was injured in an act of daily life and such acts don’t lead to increased risks.
In a fascinating legal turnaround, both claims bounced up to the Supreme Court and down to the Appellate Court and no one knew for a time what was going to happen. At the end of all of it, the Supreme Court said the two rulings had nothing to do with the law but reinstated benefits based on the facts as the IWCC initially found them. Legal observers in some quarters remain baffled to see the Appellate Court apply what they obviously felt was the law and the Supreme Court trumped that with the facts—most of the time, reviewing courts feel their province is to adhere closely to the law, as they see and shape it. And with deference to all the respected members of both courts, there wasn’t much confusion about the majority of the facts when the claims were first appealed.
In the ten years or so since Blago was elected, it is our view there has been one pro-business WC decision at the Supreme and Appellate Court level. If we see another one, we will let you know.
So where are we at now? Well, the same party is still in power and controls all three branches of IL government. They may be trying hard to deal with the “torn fabric” of our system and may actually be trying to repair it. And they may not. If Illinoisans want change, they are going to have to vote for it.
We saw an article from the Associated Press last week where downstate facilities for the State of Illinois have eight-figure benefits being paid over the last four years. Illinois’ state facilities may be among the most dangerous places on the planet to work because literally hundreds of new litigated lost-time WC claims are being filed every day of the year—NOT. OSHA isn’t conducting hearings into all these purported accident claims because they know what is happening--the problem isn’t poor safety, the problem is a WC system run amok which awards workers with millions for “non-accident accidents.” At 12 southern State of Illinois work sites, $40.7 million was paid for 861 “accident” claims filed from 2007-2010. If you are doing the math, that number is over 200 claims every year. Illinois taxpayers put out $24 million on 963 claims at 51 similar facilities elsewhere in Illinois.
Please remember if there was about $65 million in benefits paid on the state claims listed above, it means about $13 million in legal fees was paid to the lawyers for those workers or about $3 million each year. And that money is just on State of Illinois claims—that money funds more claims against private businesses and other government bodies. If you aren’t sure, that is why and how campaign money is funneled to the folks who pick the hearing officers and administrators who run the IWCC. That is also a reason Governor Quinn appears to be moving with concrete boots to get reforms into place in the State of IL WC system.
If you want to review the AP article, send a reply and we will forward it. We certainly hope future Governors and all politicians in this state remember not only are George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich going to be in federal prison at the same time, most of the members of their staffs and political pals will also be in prison or dead from suicide. We hope they all enjoy the delicious prison cuisine. We appreciate your thoughts and comments. Please do not hesitate to post them on our award-winning blog.