Personal injury and workers’ compensation are two types of injury cases in Illinois. Both can involve the same types of injuries, such as a slip and fall, a vehicle accident, or an injury caused by a machine or piece of equipment. The difference lies in the cause of the injury.
If your injury is caused by your job, it will be considered a workers’ compensation case. The main difference is that you will not file a lawsuit (the law actually prevents you from suing your employer after a work injury) but rather you will file a claim for benefits. Your employer likely has workers’ compensation insurance that pays workers who are hurt on the job.
If your injury is caused by a third party who is not your employer, it’s more likely a personal injury case. You can file a lawsuit against the party who is at fault. Proving fault is a major part of any personal injury lawsuit. In a workers’ compensation claim, however, fault is irrelevant. Your work injury could be your fault or your employer’s fault or no one’s fault. Benefits are available regardless, as long as you qualify otherwise.
The benefits available to injured workers are set by law. Benefits include payment of 100% of your medical bills, with no co-pays or out-of-pocket expenses, as well as a portion of your regular pay if you are unable to work. Wage-loss benefits are called temporary total disability (TTD) and amount to 2/3 of your average weekly wage. You can also get a settlement to compensate you for any permanent injury you have after your recovery is complete.
In an injury lawsuit you are asking the judge to order the other side to pay your damages, which include medical bills and lost wages, but also pain and suffering in many cases. A jury often decides what your case is worth. There are no juries in workers’ compensation cases.
Both types of cases have an impartial third party to handle disputes during the case and make final rulings after trial if there is one. In an injury lawsuit, this is the judge (and jury). In a workers’ compensation case, you have an arbitrator who is similar to a judge.
While some personal injury attorneys might handle workers’ compensation cases and vice versa, it’s better to hire an attorney who focuses on one or the other. Your workers’ compensation attorney, for example, should know the arbitrator in your case because they are at the hearing site often and handling a lot of similar cases.
Both types of cases have strict deadlines in Illinois. For a personal injury, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of injury. For workers’ comp, the statute of limitations is three years from the date of injury or two years from the date of your last payment of benefits, if any.