Trade Associations Will Pay Own Attorneys’ Fees After Challenging Workers’ Compensation Presumption Laws

When the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission worried first responders wouldn't receive benefits from COVID, it enacted its own presumption laws, causing two trade associations to file suit.
By: | November 3, 2021

In March 2020, Governor J. B. Pritzker of Illinois placed an executive order over the state, declaring it “a disaster area” in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. The order required nonessential business activities to temporarily cease. It also imposed a stay-at-home and social distancing measure.

By April,Whengrew concerned whether workers’ compensation benefits would be available to first responders and other frontline workers most susceptible to exposure of the virus.

To combat concerns, the Commission added emergency amendments to its rules to better define who fit under the “first responders” and “frontline workers” monikers, enabling such workers a clearer path to benefits in the event they fell ill.

It further added in presumption laws that essentially guaranteed employees who were within these definitions would receive benefits because of their on-the-job COVID exposures.

Following this decision, two trade associations, the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, filed a temporary restraining order, asserting that the Commission exceeded its authority under the governing statutes.

They argued the Commission had implemented its emergency amendments without the explicit guidance of the Illinois government.

By July 2020, a circuit court entered a written order in favor of the trade associations. It said they were entitled to “attorney fees and costs” and further ordered “defendants to reimburse plaintiffs $97,699 for litigation efforts from April 14, 2020, to May 5, 2020.”

The Commission filed an appeal.

It argued that the circuit court erred in siding with the trade associations. The Commission’s decision and implementation of emergency amendments were well within its rights to do, regardless of the Illinois statues, the Commission further argued.

It believed that it acted in accordance with the circumstances at hand and stood by its decision to give first respondents and frontline workers benefits for COVID-related claims.

Scorecard: The appeals court reviewed both arguments before reversing the circuit court’s orders. “We find nothing absurd about a result in which a litigant pay his own attorney fees,” it said.

Takeaway: The pandemic has certainly brought up insurance quandaries across the board, from BI claims to worker safety. In the workers’ comp space, it is best to review state guidelines to determine if your workers are eligible for benefits and what that means moving forward. &

Autumn Demberger is the content strategist at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

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