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Helfand: The Chicago Bulls and Illinois Workers' Compensation

By Mike Helfand

Friday, February 17, 2017 | 959 | 0 | min read

I like the Bulls. Not like in the '90s when I LOVED the Chicago Bulls, but I root for them.  Hopefully, one day they will be good again.

Mike Helfand

Mike Helfand

There has been talk about Illinois work comp reform and professional athletes. Specifically the billionaire owners of the Chicago Bears are trying to prevent having to pay out wage differential claims to two to three players a year. They are asking for special interest legislation. 

This is a joke because it’s really just for them for the most part. Talk of reform is a joke, too, because we had major reform in 2011. Overall claims are down 40%, costs per case are down almost 10%, but insurance prices haven’t declined. That’s where reform is needed.

I got a call from a reporter who wants to do a story on this issue and didn’t realize that it’s just a money grab from the McCaskeys, as this affects so few people every year. In most years the Bears have zero to five cases filed at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, and most of the ones I reviewed were not wage differentials.

We started looking at other teams by checking the public records at the commission website and looked at the Chicago Bulls. If you type them in to a search you will see only three people have ever filed a case against them; none are anyone you’ve ever heard of.

So why aren’t Chicago Bulls players filing cases? We know that they get injured.

It’s likely a few reasons. The biggest, though, is probably because they are worried about being blackballed. Jerry Reinsdorf is less likely to give you a job once you retire if you bring a case against him, or at least that’s how players are taught to think. It’s no different than some of your jobs where people worry if they bring a case, they could get fired.

Problem is that all of it is illegal, especially when it’s happening to you where it’s easier to prove. It’s against the law to fire someone for pursuing a workers’ compensation case. There have been lawsuits over this, and in one where it was proven to have had happened, the worker won over $2 million.

What’s crazy about the Bulls, Bears or any sports team is how few cases actually get filed, especially by lesser players. Ka'Deem Carey is a backup running back and has a case filed right now. You can bet if he gets cut that this has something to do with it. 

The reality, though, is that almost every player is sustaining a serious injury. Derrick Rose destroyed his knees for the Bulls and hasn’t filed a case. He’s made millions, but that doesn’t mean he should give up his benefits and the money he is owed.

I’m passionate about this issue because if we let them chip away rights of any workers, it will eventually spread to everybody. So while I’m personally more concerned about the teachers, laborers and nurses I talk to than I am over an athlete who seems entitled, my job is to fight for everyone, and by fighting for them we are also fighting for everyone else.

Mike Helfand is Chicago workers’ compensation defense attorney. This column was reprinted with his permission from his Illinois Workers’ Compensation Law Blog.

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