With the Governor of Illinois pressing for significant worker’s compensation “reform,” I have been giving a great deal of thought to the many and varied differences between a worker’s compensation claim and a personal injury claim in Illinois. Many people, including legislators in Illinois, really do not understand the significant differences between the Illinois Worker’s Compensation Act and a Personal Injury case. The differences are astonishing in terms of proving a case and the types of damages that are recoverable. If one understands just how limited and restricted damages are in a worker’s compensation claim, then maybe, just maybe, the Governor and General Assembly will not be so quick to enact additional reforms that further reduce the injured worker’s rights under the Illinois Worker’s Compensation Act.
Let’s look at the Illinois Worker’s Compensation Act. This Act was enacted as a result of many significant compromises between labor and business. The main compromise was that business (the employers) agreed that liability would be easier to prove in exchange for labor (employees) agreeing to limit the amount and types of monetary compensation that could be recovered. Put another way, the employers agreed to lessen the burden on an employee to prove he was entitled to receive compensation. For this promise, the employees agreed to limit the amount of money they could obtain as compensation. Business now is looking to change this bargain by making it harder for an injured employee to prove that he is entitled to an award and if he is entitled to an award to further limit the amount of it.
In essence, under the Illinois Worker’s Compensation Act, the employee has to prove that his injury was the result of an on-the-job accident. The employee does not have to prove “fault” on the part of the employer. He does not have to prove that the employer caused his injury. Rather, he has to establish that the injury occurred while he was on-the-job doing what he was supposed to be doing. With certain exceptions, if an employee can prove this then he is entitled to receive an award under the Illinois Worker’s Compensation Act. If he cannot prove this, then he is not entitled to make a recovery under the Act.