Federal lawsuit filed in Chicago worker's compensation dispute
A federal lawsuit was recently filed in an attempt to stop Chicago Alderman Ed Burke from running Chicago’s Workers Compensation (WC) Defense Program.
The litigation’s filing triggered a response from the Better Gov’t Association, a government watchdog group. The organization expressed serious doubts about Burke’s ability to manage the city’s worker's compensation program in a fair and equitable way.
"Chicago may spend between $120M-200M each year in WC payouts ... Burke 'hides' all WC payments/reserves and budgets either in the numerous City of Chicago departments or wherever he feels best,” Eugene Keefe, a partner at Keefe, Campbell, Biery & Associates, said.
Keefe also does not believe that transferring power to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as has been suggested, will solve anything.
“I don’t feel the Mayor’s Office has any chance to improve on their dismal results,” Keefe said. “I feel there is a strong need for an outside company or force to handle it and try to bring the concept in line before this version of the Titanic hits the iceberg, bringing the City of Chicago down with it.”
Burke has complete control of the WC program. He’s a long-time, wealthy politician who has amassed a significant amount of influence. His wife, Anne Burke, is an Illinois Supreme Court justice.
Keefe believes that the WC program is failing on multiple fronts.
“If you check online for City of Chicago job titles, there is no one identified as a claims handler manager for WC,” he said. “There is no member of the … Chicago Corporation Counsel’s office designated or specifically trained as a workers’ comp defense lawyer.”
Keefe also said Burke avoids pro se settlements. He instead forces each claim through the legal route. Yet, the city has only one claims manager and one defense lawyer to handle the massive amount of WC claims filed every year. The lack of firm legal guidance, in Keefe’s opinion, leads to injured workers receiving bloated payouts from the city.
Claimants are shuffled to law firms that donate to Burke’s political campaign.
“Alderman Burke accepts/seeks legal but ethically challenged donations from three Claimant firms who have ‘favored nation’ status and get most of the City of Chicago WC claimant work,” Keefe said.
Additionally, there have been questions raised about the alderman’s refusal to accept light work options for injured employees. He completely rejects the concept. This has resulted in city workers staying away from work for years.
“When they settle,” Keefe said. “The money is well into the six-figures.”
Under Burke’s management, injured city employees who file a WC claim and receive paid leave are not surveilled during their time off. Accusations that many workers continue to be employed at side jobs, therefore, can’t be fully investigated.
“I feel … Chicago is nutty when it comes to running their own WC defense program,” Keefe said.
The litigation to force Burke out of his position is still pending. However, the city’s problems with its WC program might continue even if the suit is successful, Keefe said.