Thursday, March 10, 2011

Making Change

Last September, the trooper who killed Jessica and Kelli decided that he would file for workers' compensation. Apparently the Illinois workers' comp laws did not specifically preclude a person from collecting compensation even if the injuries received were caused by negligence on the part of the injured person. Isn't that a kick in the head?

I decided to call bullshnicky on that, and after doing a little digging on the State's website, I discovered that my local senator, William Haine, was on a special commission to reform the workers' compensation laws. I emailed him, told him who I was and why I was taking this personally, and asked him to amend the laws so that those who cause their own injuries not be allowed to collect benefits.

In the meantime, our local newspaper began reporting about potentially fraudulent workers' compensation filings. Apparently 389 employees at a local prison, 230 of which were guards, were all claiming injuries stemming from "repetitive trauma," and the State has paid over $10 million dollars on these claims. No wonder this State is in financial turmoil - apparently it never occurred to anyone to say "hmm, perhaps we should fix the problem causing this 'repetitive trauma.'"

Thankfully the paper was investigating the workers' comp process, because otherwise we would have never known that the trooper's hearing, (which is public, by the way) had been secretly rescheduled. Of course, by the time I was notified of the date and time, it was too late for me to attend, or anyone from the public.

During the investigation by the reporters, numerous emails sent by the arbitrator in charge of the trooper's case were discovered. The arbitrator was communicating with the trooper's attorney to move the trooper's hearing to a "special setting and an unknown place and time!" and then emailed her court reporter to say the hearing would be held "on the sly, with no press." The arbitrator also emailed her supervisor and said that "the media frenzy" was an "overwhelming thought" and had no idea "this guy's worker's comp case would draw such attention." Oh really? Let me tell you about "media frenzy" and "overwhelming" attention.

After I read that article, I again emailed Sen. Haine, and also emailed the Chairman of the Workers' Comp Commission, and included the link to the article. I also wrote a letter to my local representative, Dwight Kay, who was spearheading a resolution calling for a full forensic audit of the workers' compensation division.

My letter to Rep. Kay read, in part:

"I have also written to Chairman Mitch Weisz to express my extreme displeasure in the way that Arbitrator Teague has handled this case, specifically hiding the hearing from the public. If she was uncomfortable with the case and the "media frenzy", she should have recused herself instead of holding a hearing "on the sly." The family of Jessica and Kelli Uhl did not have a choice to avoid the "media frenzy" and all court hearings involving the civil and criminal matters were available to the public and to the media. I further implored him to take the necessary steps to ensure that this does not happen in the future, and that disciplinary action be taken against Arbitrator Teague...As a taxpayer of the State of Illinois as well as someone who has been personally affected by the actions of the IWCC employees, I hope that you are
successful in overhauling this system."

Chairman Weisz responded to me within 24 hours and assured me his office was investigating the claims. Sen. Haine's office thanked me for the article and told me they had passed along the information to the senator.

Ultimately the trooper's workers' comp claim was denied by the arbitrator, coincidentally on the same day that she was placed on administrative leave. The trooper has the option to appeal the ruling within 30 days, but so far we haven't heard if he has done so. The deadline is March 21.

Earlier this week, I was thinking that I hadn't heard anything further from the senator or representative, so I was going to follow up. Imagine my surprise when I received a phone call from Rep. Kay today letting me know that his resolution calling for an audit was being presented to the Illinois legislature today. He was disappointed that due to the late notice I would be unable to attend the hearing. He was hoping it would be heard next week, but it was moved up at the last minute. He did ask if he could read my letter into the record during the hearing, and I said "uh, hell yeah!" (Not really but my "of course" was said in a "hell yeah!" tone). He also stated that he hoped to begin work soon to amend the law, and he agreed with me that negligence should not be compensated, and assured me that I would have notice so that I could attend that hearing. The resolution passed 111-0.

Although I wasn't present for the hearing today, I hope to be when the laws are amended, and I can witness another positive result from my daughters' deaths.

Here is a list of all the articles the Belleville paper has written on this investigation.


Anonymous said...

Hell Yeah!

Jill of All Trades said...

Way to go get'em girl.

Kelli said...


Jaelithe said...

This is why I so strongly believe that mothers in general need to get more involved in politics: As you just demonstrated, moms get stuff DONE.

Annie said...

Dude. Did he appeal? We're past the deadline! I feel out of the loop all the way over here!