The Why’s and When’s of Workers’ Comp Claims

Published on April 8th, 2020

Those finding themselves unemployed or furloughed due to the COVID-19 crisis and resulting economic shutdown might be inclined to think that, besides filing for unemployment benefits, this is the perfect time to pursue a workers’ compensation claim for that nagging on-the-job injury from a few weeks or months ago.

In fact, history has shown that there is often an uptick in such claims during times when the economy slows, unemployment is on the rise, and paychecks stop arriving.

But those who have suffered an accident at work, or another injury at work, need to understand first how long they have to file a workers’ compensation claim, whether a previous injury can be claimed, how best to do so, and why it would be helpful to hire an attorney in this process.

In the State of Illinois, workers’ compensation claims are the “exclusive remedy” for accidents at work and injuries at work, meaning that there is no common law or statutory right to recover damages from an employer. There are no exceptions, according to the Handbook on Workers’ Compensation and Occupational Diseases, published by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, which provides an extensive rundown of the ins and outs of workers’ comp.

Statute of Limitations

Workers considering filing a claim in Illinois should know that under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, the deadline to report a claim is 45 days, although the deadline to file the full claim is not for three years. Delaying this action might result in a lower award, or none at all.

There are exceptions to this rule: if an illness or condition develops gradually, the time frame can be longer—but the employee must report the situation immediately upon becoming aware of the condition, and its connection to their work. This often happens at the doctor’s office.

Examples of these types of exceptions include a repetitive stress condition like carpal tunnel syndrome, or an illness like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Those reporting radiological exposure have 90 days.

Exceptions to the Rule

When employees report injuries late, insurance companies often deny them – but claimants sometimes are able to recover monies, anyway, depending upon the specific circumstances. 

These exceptions can include an accident at work or injury at work observed by a supervisor, or if the employer otherwise was or should have been aware that it happened. If an employee has been quarantined because an illness was contagious—like on-the-job exposure to coronavirus—or the employee is incapacitated and can’t get someone to file a notice on their behalf, the filing deadline also can be extended.

Benefits Provided

According to Illinois Workers’ Compensation Claim Handling Guidelines published by CLM, a successful claim can provide benefits such as medical care to ameliorate the injury or accident at work, temporary total disability benefits during the time off work, or vocational rehabilitation and maintenance benefits for those participating in an approved program.

For those with more serious injuries, the workers’ compensation system provides permanent partial disability benefits for those who can still work despite permanent disability or disfigurement, as well as permanent total disability for those who cannot. In a tragic circumstance where an employee is killed, family members can recover death benefits.

Next Steps

In any case, employees who report a previous workplace injury and receive a denial from the employers’ insurance company can appeal that denial. Speaking with a workers’ compensation attorney, which most claimants ultimately do, provides the opportunity to understand the Illinois rules, including the reporting deadline and qualifications for any exceptions.

Peter Wachowski brings more than 25 years of experience in this area. He can be contacted at 866-699-3339 or

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