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2011 Changes to Illinois Workers’ Compensation Laws

In the spring of 2011, Illinois lawmakers changed the state’s workers’ compensation laws. Below are the most notable changes, which affect injuries occurring on September 1, 2011, and after. If your injury occurred before September 1, 2011, none of these new rules will impact you.

  • Limits on doctor choice. Previously, the law in Illinois allowed workers to choose their own doctor without much restriction. An injured employee was – and still is – entitled to two picks, along with each doctor’s referrals (to surgeons, therapists, etc.). However, under the 2011 changes, employers are able to join a preferred provider network, or PPO, for workers’ compensation. This limits an employee’s choice of doctors because they must choose a doctor in the network. An employee can opt out of the PPO if they choose (and if they do so in writing), but then they lose one of their two doctor selections. Opting out counts as one. So, if an injured worker does not want to use a doctor in the network, then they end up with only one choice.
  • Doctors paid less. Doctors and other medical providers are paid from a set fee schedule when they treat work injuries. The new law reduces these fees by 30%. So providers get paid less, and employers save money.
  • Less compensation for carpal tunnel. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a repetitive stress injury. A common example is excessive typing, but it can also be caused by other types of repetitive motion. Benefits are paid based on loss of use of the hand, and the amount is determined as a percentage. The changes in the law limit the amount of benefits you can get by capping the loss percentage at 15% (if you have a severe injury it could be as high as 30%), as well as limiting the amount of time you can receive benefits to 190 weeks.
  • Additional hurdle in intoxication cases. If a worker’s use of drugs or alcohol is the cause of the accident, the worker is not eligible for benefits. The new law adds that if the worker fails a drug or alcohol test, it’s assumed that the intoxication caused the accident and injury. The burden is on the worker to show otherwise. The worker must prove that intoxication was not the cause. In addition, the new law says that if a worker is so intoxicated that it puts them outside the scope of their employment, then they cannot receive workers’ compensation for an injury.
  • Limit on how long you can receive wage differential benefits. Wage differential benefits are available when an injured worker is partially disabled and can’t work at the same job or earn the same pay as a result. The worker is entitled to a percentage of the difference between their pre- and post-injury wages. The new changes in the law limit these benefits by putting an end date on them. A worker can only receive wage differential benefits for five years or until they turn 67, whichever is later. Previously, these benefits were available indefinitely, sometimes even for life.
  • “Permanently disabled” determination changed. Under the previous law, a worker’s testimony could be considered when determining whether they were permanently disabled according to the law. Now, the law instead includes specific guidelines for making this determination (employee’s age, occupation, future earning capacity, and evidence of disability in medical records). The list of factors is more objective, and subjective aspects – such as the worker’s testimony – are no longer allowed.

Overall, the new law favors employers – by reducing the cost of providing benefits – and restricts the benefits available to injured employees. These changes won’t affect cases that are ongoing. Again, they will likely only affect injuries occurring on September 1, 2011, and after.

If you have any questions about these changes or need to speak with an attorney about an Illinois workers’ compensation claim, please feel free to contact us for a no cost, confidential consultation.