Illinois Chamber urges Pritzker to keep campaign promise about workers' compensation reform
After House and Senate Democrats sent SB 1596 to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce is petitioning the governor to veto the Workers’ Compensation reform bill.
The chamber’s recent letter to Pritzker outlines a handful of potential adverse effects on small businesses and invokes Pritzker’s campaign promise to involve employers in any reform process.
“We urge you to veto SB 1596, as business interests were provided no opportunity to negotiate the provisions of SB 1596 and its provisions will have a profound impact on the workers’ compensation system” wrote Illinois Chamber president and CEO Todd Maisch.
The legislators sponsoring the bill, sent to Pritzker on March 20, are all Democrats, according to the General Assembly’s website.
Maisch wrote that the proposed law would erode liability protection for employers in workplace injury cases. Under current Workers Compensation (WC) and Occupational Disease (OD) law in Illinois, the letter noted, employees are limited in the amount of time they have to sue their employers.
This limitation was upheld by a 2015 Illinois Supreme Court decision in the Folta versus Ferro Engineering case. According to the McKenna Minutes, that decision reversed a lower court’s ruling that would have allowed the defendant to seek damages against the plaintiff for asbestos injuries after the statute of limitations had expired.
In Maisch’s letter to Pritzker, he noted that the ruling did allow plaintiffs to sue third parties (such as asbestos manufacturers) for damages, giving them legal recourse for their injuries. Maisch then explained why the Illinois chamber opposes SB 1596.
“Exclusive remedy protection for Illinois employers [would be] eviscerated, creating significant new exposures to liability, including punitive damages, that far exceed the benefits provided by the WC or OD Acts …” Maisch wrote.
He alleged that the proposal would set aside employer protection under current laws, so “employers will now face civil actions with unlimited awards, including punitive damages, from cases where the action has been previously barred.”
According to Maisch’s letter, SB 1596 would effectively remove the statue of limitations governing Workers’ Compensation or Occupational Disease cases. He also said that the new law would place a burden on small businesses by forcing them to pay far greater sums for liability insurance.
“Lack of [such] insurance coverage could jeopardize the financial viability of the employer and result in little to no award actually being received by the employee,” Maisch wrote. “By expanding the repose limit, an employee could continue to enjoy the strict liability placed on an employer and be relatively certain that benefits will be paid.”
Black’s Law Dictionary explains that “repose limit” refers to the “statute of limitations applying the number of years a party has after the contract is over to act.”
Writing that SB 1596 could reopen previously settled Workers’ Compensation cases or affect “future settlements,” Maisch reminded Pritzker that the governor promised to have bilateral talks between business and labor to address reform.
“We also urge you, following a veto, to bring the workers’ compensation stakeholders together to negotiate a more reasonable approach to addressing the Folta v. Ferro Engineering Illinois Supreme Court decision,” Maisch wrote. “A more reasonable approach would be to confine the issue to the WC/OD Acts.”