While the motivation for Bob Walberg’s April 29 article — to make Illinois more attractive to businesses — is commendable, the means called for within the article are unfounded and misguided.
As Walberg stated, “Workers’ compensation is important to protecting employees injured on the job.” Without it, hundreds of thousands of workers every year would be injured while working by no fault of their own and be forced to bear the cost of those injuries. Bearing that cost could lead to workers possibly losing everything: savings, homes and even families.
Walberg misstates the law claiming that employers are being held accountable for injuries outside the workplace. This is not an accurate statement of the law. The only time an employer is held liable for injuries that occur outside of the workplace is when the accident arises out of and in the course and scope of the employment.
Walberg seeks reform that would deny liability for a worker that is injured outside the workplace without any consideration given to what they were doing or what caused the injury. His statement, taken literally, would mean that every police officer shot in the line of duty, if outside the department’s offices, would be forced to bear the cost of that injury himself and an employee sent to a customer to perform services would not be covered if he were injured while doing so. This is ludicrous and is the reason our legislature thought it necessary to create the law.
Walberg concludes that it is the high cost of workers’ compensation that drives businesses out of Illinois. Yet the facts and statistics show differently. IWCC’s Annual Report of June 2015, indicates that 200,000 workrelated injuries were reported to employers in 2014. Out of those, only 43,732 led to claims being filed. In 1995, there were 500,000 work injuries reported with 70,000 claims filed. NCCI reports that only 3.23.5 percent of Illinois workers are injured each year. In 1990, it was 9.5 percent. In Illinois, the number of workrelated injuries and cases have dropped significantly.
Walberg stated that Illinois’ costs were “off the charts compared with” neighboring states. That statement is not true. In 2006, the legislature reformed the act to control the cost of medical benefits. In 2011, the legislature amended the act and made even more cuts.
According to Crain’s Chicago Business, in “Illinois workers’ comp costs fall below Indiana, Wisconsin”; published Oct. 27, medical payments fell nearly 15 percent between 2010 and 2013 in Illinois. “Illinois’ average (medical) payments are now lower than Indiana’s, Wisconsin’s and Iowa’s.” In 2012, Illinois costs dropped 11 percent. In contrast, nationwide costs increased 1 percent.
Walberg states that Illinois has the seventh highest rates in the U.S., yet Illinois costs have decreased 17 percent since 2012 while the national average was minus 2 percent. The reason that Illinois costs have dropped profoundly more than others is because of the changes made in 2011. Some of the effects of that reform are being seen but some will not be seen for a few years.
While I understand Walberg’s call to action, the reform has already been done. We don’t need more. We need a system that is fair to all, provides an expeditious way for employees to receive benefits and promotes workplace safety.
Our law achieves this without being overly costly. Instead of using misinterpreted statistics as propaganda, Illinois should be celebrating what we’ve done to make it better for employers to do business in Illinois, something our neighbors are not doing.
Tracy L. Jones is a partner with Black & Jones, Attorneys at Law, Rockford.