Stuff happens at work – when it does, we’re here.



Good Article on Nurses Injured at Work

The plight of health care workers resonates with me – most likely because I’m happily married to a nurse. Luckily, she moved into office practice before the seemingly inevitable damage to her back. Nevertheless, she certainly had her share of smaller injuries – being punched/kicked by patients, dirty needle sticks, etc.

This good article from details what many nurses and CNAs go through when they are hurt and can’t return to their jobs.

We have represented many nurses, CNAs, therapists, and other health care professionals who have been hurt at work. For many nurses, an injury can mean a move to an office job – often with a significant paycut – which can be devastating for nurses who are often the breadwinners (or only income) for their families. For CNAs, an injury may mean finding another career altogether.

If you are a health care worker who has been hurt on the job, please contact our experienced workers compensation attorneys. We’d love to help.

(Howard Zimmerle is a workers comp lawyer in Moline Illinois, practicing in the Quad Cities and surrounding areas. He can be reached at 309-581-5336 or

Disfigurement in Illinois Workers Compensation

Most workers compensation injuries are purely physical – strains/sprains, broken bones, torn ligaments, herniated discs. While they certainly take a toll on the psyche, there is another type of injury that can create a lasting psychological effect: the disfiguring injury.

Many injuries leave large scars, marks, dents, or other things that permanently hurt a person’s appearance. The old saying – chicks dig scars – may or may not be true. While most of workers compensation is concerned with function – in other words, how well you can work after you heal and what physical limitations you have – thankfully Illinois workers comp also considers disfigurement. Or at least some of it.

820 ILCS 305/8(c) provides compensation for “any serious and permanent disfigurement to the hand, head, face, neck, arm, leg below the knee or the chest above the axillary line.” The axillary line is actually a confusing measure to use here. It’s a line that runs top to bottom, as opposed to left/right. Only lawyers would make a rule about something that runs above a vertical line. For a good rule of thumb, think of the collar bone as your dividing line – but check with an attorney before assuming it’s not covered.

This helps people with burns quite a bit.

The one huge caveat to this is that there’s no compensation for disfigurement if there is also an award for loss of use of the same body part in the same accident. In other words, if you have arm surgery that leaves some impairment to your arm, but also a scar, you get compensated for the impairment to the arm, not the scar (in most cases). Fair? Not really, but it is what it is.

Of course, if you have any questions about how this works, I’d advise you to speak to a good Illinois workers comp attorney – maybe even me.

(Howard Zimmerle is an attorney in Moline, Illinois, handling workers compensation and other injury cases throughout Iowa and Illinois. He can be reached at 309-581-5336 or

My Employer Offered Me “My Impairment Rating” to Settle my Workers Comp Case. Should I Settle?

*NOTE* This applies to ILLINOIS workers compensation only.

In 2011, the Illinois workers compensation law changed. Now when people have been hurt at work get healed to the point they are as good as they are going to get (we call this MMI, or maximum medical improvement), the doctor will give them an “impairment rating”. This is a rating using the American Medical Association Guides to approximate the amount of impairment to someone’s body.

What we are seeing quite often is that an employer will say “you were given an impairment rating of 2% of an arm by Doctor Jones, so we are offering you a settlement based on 2% of an arm. It’s all you’re going to get anyway.”

Don’t believe them. 

Illinois workers compensation compensates “disability,” not “impairment.” Impairment is purely physical. Disability involves how that impairment changes your ability to work. Usually, disability is greater than impairment. 

Almost across the board, the AMA impairment ratings the doctors give you are going to be less than the permanent partial disability ratings the workers compensation system will give you. This is based on my personal experience and my discussions with dozens of other lawyers across the state after the law changed.

So what should you do?

If you get an offer, talk to an attorney. A good attorney will talk to you for free, and if he/she can’t help you, he/she will tell you so. The big kicker – if the attorney takes your case, he/she will only take a fee based on what they can get you above and beyond your original offer! In other words, unless something unforeseen happens and you lose your case, going to a lawyer isn’t going to cost you anything out of your current offer. A good lawyer should be able to tell you how much (if any) risk it would be to go further with the case. It’s a no brainer.

Just to toot my own horn, I’ve spoken to the Illinois Bar Association about these issues and have written about some of the new changes. If you would like to talk to me, you can call me at 309-581-5336. Just remember that I’m not your attorney – unless you sign up with me.

(Howard Zimmerle is a personal injury and workers compensation attorney in the Quad Cities. He can be reached at 309-581-5336 and at

Quick Primer on AMA Guidelines in Illinois Workers Compensation Cases

I spoke about this in Fairview Heights in February, but for those who didn’t get to see the seminar, here are a few tips on how to handle the AMA guidelines requirement in the new workers comp law.

1. Do we need impairment ratings in all cases?

The quick answer is maybe – at least for cases with injury dates after September 1, 2011. However, the Workers Compensation Commission has provided guidance to arbitrators that they do not need an impairment rating to approve settlement contracts, and they are not prevented from awarding PPD at hearing if there is no impairment rating on the record. Of course, this isn’t official law, and we simply don’t have enough of these cases yet to know what arbitrators are actually going to do, let alone what reviewing courts would rule.

2. Who does the impairment ratings?

The law requires them to be done by a “physician licensed to practice medicine in all of its branches.” 820 ILCS 305/8.1b(a). That means no physical therapists, no chiros, etc. However, no part of the law requires a physician to do an impairment rating – it only requires that any rating be done must be done by a physician. The AMA guidelines recommend that the rating be done by a physician who is not the treating physician.

3. Who pays for the rating?

That hasn’t officially been hammered out, although I would expect some comment about this in the new administrative rules that they are working on (who’s “they”? don’t know exactly). I don’t believe that the respondent is currently on the hook, as the impairment rating does nothing to “cure or relieve from the effects of the accidental injury” as required by section 8(a). However, this could lead to some unfairness in smaller cases where the cost of obtaining an impairment rating, let alone a lawyer, could wipe out any potential benefit in PPD.

4. How do the ratings come into evidence?

Right now, Section 16 allows introduction of reports by medical providers, but not reports prepared by treating providers for use in litigation. It looks like you need an agreement between the parties or a deposition.

5. What is the relationship between an impairment rating and a PPD award?

Impairment ratings are only one factor to be taken into account in the new law, along with the employee’s occupation, age, future earning capacity, and other evidence of disability corroborated by the medical records. “Impairment” as a concept is different than “Disability” as a concept.

The AMA Guides discuss, at length, the fact that impairment and disability are two very different things. Look at the Guides, section 1.3.

As far as a comparison, AMA impairment ratings come out much lower than the corresponding PPD rates we’re used to.

My advice: read and understand the Guides, and then advocate strongly in your proposed decisions.

(Howard Zimmerle is an injury/accident lawyer in the Quad Cities, practicing in Rock Island, Moline, and surrounding areas. He can be reached at or 309-581-5336). 

A Shoulder Might Not be Part of an Arm… and Why That Matters (updated June 2012)

Woah. Big decision last week from the Workers Compensation Division of the Illinois Appellate Court. In Will County v. the Illinois Workers Comp Commission, the court decided that shoulder injuries are considered part of the body as a whole, not part of the arm. 

Why does this matter? It potentially increases the value of cases. Body as a Whole cases are worth a percentage of 500 weeks, whereas arm cases are worth a percentage of 253 weeks. But does that really change anything? An arbitrator might decide that, since an injury was worth 30% of an arm before, it is only worth 15% of the body as a whole, making the value essentially the same.

Still… very interesting. I’m surprised it took so long for there to be a case on this.

*June 2012 update* It seems arbitrators are split about how to handle this. Akemann, for example, will only accept contracts for shoulder injuries on a MAW basis, but will accept the following language: “This settlement represents approximately (%) loss of use of a person as a whole, or if the holding of the case, Will County Forest Preserve v. IWCC, 2012 IL App (3d) 110077WC is reversed, modified, overruled or changed in any way which allows a settlement under a loss of use of the arm, then this settlement shall be deemed to represent (%) loss of use of the left/right arm.” Other Arbitrators (I’ve been told Pulia is one of them) will only accept settlement contracts using % of an arm. The Will County case is pending rehearing, so who knows what the final result will be. Always something interesting.

(Howard Zimmerle is a lawyer handling workers compensation injuries throughout Illinois. He can be reached at 309-581-5336 or

Quad Cities Workers Compensation Attorney Howard Zimmerle to Speak at Seminar in Fairview Heights

Here’s a chance to catch me live – I’m talking about a really important subject to Illinois Workers Comp lawyers – the interplay between the AMA Guides, and “disability.”

This is a new subject to lawyers in this state, so people who attend this seminar can be on the forefront and make the best arguments for their clients.

You can sign up for the seminar here.

(Howard Zimmerle is a personal injury and workers compensation attorney in Rock Island, Illinois, handling cases in much of the state and in Iowa. He can be reached at 309-794-1660 or hzimmerle [at] You can also follow him on twitter). 

New Illinois Workers Comp Hearing Site Locations – and What it Means for the Injured Worker

Beginning January 1, 2012, things are going to change a bit.

One of the most noticeable changes will be the difference in hearing sites across the state. Downstate Illinois is now split up into six “regions”.

Region 1: Collinsville, Mt. Vernon, Herrin

Region 2: Quincy, Urbana, Springfield

Region 3: Kewanee, Peoria, Bloomington

Region 4: Geneva, Ottawa, Joliet

Region 5: Rockford, Waukegan, Woodstock

Region 6: Wheaton

Each region is assigned three different arbitrators. Here is how this affects injured workers:

1. Many people will have to drive further to have their case heard. This is a killer for many who aren’t working, aren’t getting paid, or are getting paid only 2/3 of their normal wages. People from Rock Island, for example, who used to have to go to City Hall, will now have to drive an hour to Kewanee. Not only is this expensive, it can also be difficult for people to arrange transportation, especially if they can’t drive themselves.

2. Each case is assigned to an arbitrator who won’t be there 2 out of every 3 months. This means that people who need urgent medical care, or who aren’t being paid for their time off of work will often have to go even further and find the arbitrator at whatever hearing site they happen to be assigned to that month. In other words, if you are injured in Rock Island County, and the arbitrator assigned to your case isn’t in Kewanee that month, you may need to go to Bloomington or Peoria to hear your case. That’s a lot of driving.

3. Pre-trials will be less frequent. One easy way to resolve disputes about value is to have a “pre-trial” in front of the arbitrator. This way, if the employer says the case is worth x and we say the case is worth y, we can talk to the same arbitrator who will eventually decide the case, and the arbitrator will tell us what he/she would probably do (as in saying “the case is worth x plus $5,000). We had this opportunity every month, but now will only have the opportunity every 3 months. This makes cases harder to resolve and may create some backlog.

We’ll see how things shake out. Once there is a new accident location table (which will tell you which region and hearing site you are in), I will post again.

(Howard Zimmerle is a workers compensation lawyer in Illinois. He can be reached at 309-794-1660 or at hzimmerle [at] 

Are Bonuses Part of My Workers Comp Award?

Yes, if the bonuses are not discretionary.

Probably the most important factor in the value of your workers comp case is your average weekly wage in the 52 weeks before the accident. You want that wage to be as high as possible, because the more money you made in that 52 week period, the more your case is worth. Unfortunately, calculating the average weekly wage isn’t as simple as adding up what you made and dividing by 52.

Not all “wages” are “wages” for workers comp purposes. Things like shift differential pay, per diems, overtime and bonuses may or may not be considered “wages,” and whether they are can sometimes greatly change the value of the case. (Consider the worker who makes, say $10 an hour but routinely works 60 hour weeks. With a serious back injury, the difference in calculating wages with or without overtime could be $20,000 or more. Think your employer is going to watch out for you and do things right?)

A recent case hold that bonuses can be part of a worker’s wages for workers comp purposes if the bonuses are tied to production, and non-discretionary. In other words, if you get a bonus for working a certain number of required hours, or for a certain level of production or sales, your bonus should be considered when they calculate the value of your workers comp case. If the bonus is something your boss just gives you on occasion when she is feeling nice, it’s probably not part of your comp case.

As always, it’s smart to talk to a good Illinois workers comp lawyer if you have questions and want to maximize the value of your case – and who doesn’t?

(Howard Zimmerle is a workers compensation and personal injury attorney in Rock Island, Illinois. He practices throughout western and central Illinois. You can contact him at 309-794-1660 or hzimmerle [at] 

Five myths about Illinois Workers Compensation Law

1. My work accident needs to have been the main cause or the only cause of my current problem.

False. Illinois law allows compensation for aggravations or accelerations of a pre-existing condition. For example, if you had a bad back, but then made it much worse in an accident at work, you may be entitled to compensation.

2. I can’t recover if it’s my fault or no one’s fault.

False. Fault doesn’t really matter (with some exceptions, such as an employee’s own intoxication). By that same token, it doesn’t really matter that your employer was negligent or dangerous or whatever.

3. Workers comp only covers medical bills.

Very false. If you are injured in the course and scope of your employment, you are entitled to your reasonable and necessary medical bills, PLUS 2/3 of your average weekly wage for any time you have to miss because of your injuries, AND compensation for your disability, if you have any. There is significant compensation even for injuries that heal, like torn ligaments, broken bones, etc.

4. If I have a workers comp case, I can’t be fired.

False. You can’t be fired for filing a workers comp case, but you can still be fired for whatever you could have been fired for before your injury. I wrote about that in more detail here.

5. I don’t need a lawyer for my case.

Could be true or false. Many employers (Tyson foods in Joslin is notorious about this) promise to take care of employees if they don’t hire a lawyer. They make promises. Then they break promises. A good workers compensation attorney can help you (1) get the right medical treatment, (2) make sure you are paid the right amount while you are off work, (3) make sure you get the most money you can at the end of the case, and (4) help you through a trying, difficult and confusing process. You don’t always need a lawyer. When you do, we’re here.

(Howard Zimmerle is a workers compensation lawyer in Rock Island Illinois, handling workers compensation and accident cases in Rock Island County, Henry County, Knox County, and many other areas. He can be reached at 309-794-1660 or hzimmerle [at]