In years past, there was a great deal of frustration with employers operating without workers’ compensation insurance coverage in Illinois. Even though employers have always been required to provide insurance, or show financial responsibility, they did not always do so. As a result, we saw a number of clients with serious injuries left out in the cold because there was no insurance to pay work comp benefits or medical bills. Lawyers simply couldn’t help them. Fortunately, over the past few years Illinois has made significant strides in combating this problem.
In 2005, the Illinois state legislature created the Injured Workers Benefit Fund (IWBF) to help compensate workers injured while working for an uninsured employer. While implementing the fund was a move in a positive direction, and it does accomplish its purpose, proceeding with an IWBF claim is still a complex process that is difficult to maneuver. For example, in addition to the uninsured employer, a claimant must also name the IWBF in their claim. The claimant must establish that the employer was uninsured by means of obtaining a certification from the state. The claimant must actually try the case before an Arbitrator and obtain an award, as settlements are not really possible with these claims. Finally, the claimant must submit the proper documentation of the award back to the IWBF within 90 days in order to be eligible for payment. Even when successful on these claims, payment on the claim won’t be made until the following year and may only be a partial payment of the amount due. All of the “hoops” required to win recover on an IWBF claim pretty well means that the injured worker will need an attorney. Otherwise, they risk of getting tripped up in the process. Regardless, the IWBF provides a means for uninsured workers’ to recover at least some of the benefits they deserve and the process seems to work fairly well. It was a big step in the right direction
We are also happy to note that the state has been cracking down on uninsured employers in Illinois. The state Attorney General’s office has been actively pursuing recovery of expenses and fines from the uninsured employers with injured workers. The state has also stepped up the enforcement of the mandatory insurance provisions of the compensation act. In late 2012, the Workers’ Compensation Commission reported that a Chicago Grand Jury had indicted three employers for the willful violation of the mandatory insurance provisions, a class 4 felony carrying prison terms of one to three years and up to $25,000 in fines. The Commission also recently reported that it has been issuing citations and fining employers for operating without insurance. This money is being used to fund the IWBF as well.
Enforcement of the mandatory insurance provisions and the creation of the IWBF have made a significant difference for injured workers in Illinois. In addition, the process of placing the financial burden back on those that violate the act makes a lot of sense and helps to reduce the costs to taxpayers and those conducting business in a legitimate fashion. Most importantly, injured workers are no longer left to shoulder the burden of uninsured employers alone.
Hanagan & McGovern is a Mt. Vernon, Illinois, workers’ compensation and personal injury law firm serving southern and central Illinois. If you have questions concerning this article or have other workers compensation questions, please contact us.