The new amendments to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Laws are in effect for injuries occurring September 1st, 2011 or after.  Some of these changes will directly alter how you access you benefits under the law.  Here are 5 important changes you should know.

1.  Your choice of doctor now has limits.

Under the workers’ compensation system, you are entitled to receive benefits for treatment by two physicians, and others they refer you to, such as surgeons and therapists.  What is new, though, is that the choice of the two physicians is not solely up to you anymore.

Employers can now be part of preferred provider networks for workers’ compensation.  You can decide to use one of the doctors in the network for your first choice.  You can decide not to use any of the network doctors, but then you are left with only one choice of doctor.  So the only way to have two doctor picks under the new law, is to pick one from the network list and one of your own.

2.  Carpal Tunnel injury benefits are reduced.

Carpal Tunnel syndrome is an injury that impacts the use of the hand.  It is caused by repetitive stress, and frequently found in jobs that involve excessive typing.  Benefits for these injuries are paid based on a percentage of loss of the use of the hand.

With the recent changes in the law, the percentage loss is limited to 15%, unless you can clearly prove that you have a severe case, and then it could be as much as 30%.  The total number of weeks the benefits are available is now reduced to 190 weeks.

3.  Wage differential benefits for partial disabilities have a time limit.

If your injury still allows you to work, but causes your wages to be reduced because of your limitations, you are entitled to receive the percentage difference in pay.  Previously, these benefits could continue indefinitely, but now there is a cap.  You may receive the wage loss differential benefit for five years, or until you turn 67, whichever is later.

4.  Different criteria will be used to for permanent disability determinations.

A new, more objective, set of guidelines has been put in place to make the determination of a permanent partial disability.  Though no one, specific factor will be given more weight than any other, the American Medical Association guidelines will be used to evaluate the loss of range of motion, loss of strength and other factors that impact the extent of the impairment.  These AMA guidelines will be considered along with the occupation and age, future earning capacity, and other evidence of the disability contained in the medical records.  Subjective factors, such as the testimony of the employee are no longer part of the determination.

5.  Injuries where intoxication is an issue are handled differently.

If drug or alcohol use by a worker is found to have caused the accident, then benefits will not be allowed for the injury.  The employee has the responsibility to prove that the intoxication was not the cause.  If a drug or alcohol test is failed, or if the worker refuses the test, then there is a presumption that the substance was involved and caused the injury.  This is a hurdle that the worker will have to overcome in order to receive benefits in these situations.

Also, if the intoxication was not necessarily the cause of the accident, benefits could also be denied if the worker was so intoxicated at the time, that he or she would be considered to be acting outside the scope of the employment.