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The End of Workers' Compensation in Illinois?

A radical workers' comp shakeup in Illinois could send shockwaves throughout the country, perhaps eventually reaching New York and New Jersey. The Illinois House of Representatives is mulling its options on what to do with the state's workers' compensation system.

The work-injury compensation scheme in 'The Land of Lincoln' is largely perceived to be a failure because it is one of the nation's most costly systems. Most politicians and employers believe that it is too easy for workers to obtain payouts, as workers need to provide relatively little proof that their injuries were sustained while on-the-job. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle regard the system as broken and agree it needs overhauled. However, one radical proposal - eliminating workers' comp entirely - has gained surprising traction.

Work Injuries in a World without Workers' Comp

Without a structured compensation scheme, injured workers would have to take disputes with their employers into the courts. This could create a number of serious problems. Courts already deal with overloaded dockets. To accommodate an anticipated influx of work-injury disputes, the state would likely have to hire more judges and perhaps create an entirely new division of courts to replace the role of the workers' comp system.

Also, the system would presumably pit big legal teams from employers and insurers against a multitude of pro se litigants. While injured workers that partner with an experienced attorney are more likely to obtain compensation - with or without a workers' compensation system - many workers would opt to 'go it alone' and could face intimidating court battles against skilled lawyers from the insurance companies and corporations.

The Future of Workers' Comp in New York

New York's workers' compensation system also receives much criticism. NY lawmakers will be keeping a close eye on the legislative debate underway in Illinois. While there is no crystal ball to tell us whether Illinois will have a workers' comp fallout, it is worth watching because New York workers' compensation reform is likely coming in some form.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "Ill. House may scrap workers' compensation," April 7, 2011.

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