Get a Good Lawyer Right Away After a Work Injury

A Closer Look at Gilbert Cataldo v. Cook County Budget Department

On March 8, 2013, just two days after a nor’easter had dumped 10 inches of snow on Chicago, Gilbert Cataldo was injured on his way into work. Mr. Cataldo had worked for the Budget Department of Cook County Budget Depart since 1992 and for Cook County’s John Stroger Hospital since 2008. A garage is attached to the hospital, and the top level of it is exposed to the elements. Employees were not allowed to use the lower levels since those are reserved for visitors. Mr. Cataldo arrived around 8:30am and parked his vehicle on the top level of the garage as he did every day.

However, this time as he walked from his car to the elevator something happened. He slipped and fell on ice, hitting his head hard and injuring his lower back and hip. A physician entering the building came to assist him. She told him to stay down, asked for the name of his department, and called the assistant to the budget director to report that he had been injured. An officer from the Stroger Police Department came by and wrote a report on the incident. Mr. Cataldo was taken to Rush University Medical Center and later that day called his direct supervisor to tell her about the injury. She told him that she was already aware of the accident.

Mr. Cataldo tried to return to his regular work schedule the following week, but his pain was increasing. His primary care physician, and later his back surgeon advised that he should not work. Eventually, after conservative treatment was tried, lumbar surgery was recommended. During each step of the process, Mr. Cataldo kept his supervisor informed of the doctors’ recommendations, complied with reporting to the Cook County Health and Hospitals System (Employee Health) and supplied any requested documentation. He was given no indication that he needed to fill out an Employee Incident Report or that anything was missing from his file.

Cook County denied his claim for TTD benefits (Temporary Total Disability), payment for the surgery, and medical expenses on the grounds that:

  1. He hadn’t properly reported the incident.
  2. At intake at hospital, he had admitted that he occasionally used marijuana for recreational purposes.

Mr. Cataldo ended up having to wait over 18 months for TTD benefits, payment to his doctors, and the requested surgery he was entitled to. Though the Arbitrator for the Illinois Worker’s Compensation Commission ruled on September 17, 2013 that Mr. Cataldo was entitled to benefits and surgery, Cook County appealed this, resulting in a further delay as the case went before the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Mr. Cataldo’s place of employment was requesting a written report of the incident, which wasn’t required by the Workers’ Compensation Commission. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Handbook (Section 2, paragraph 2, page 5) states that “the notice of the accident shall include the approximate date and place of the accident, [and that] notice may be given orally or in writing.” Though he may not have provided notice in the exact manner that his employer wanted, he did provide notice (both oral and written), which should have been sufficient.

Also, Mr. Cataldo had not admitted to using marijuana that day and there was nothing to suggest that he had used it that morning or recently. Basically, his employer was looking for a reason to not pay benefits. So, a long delay followed.

What lessons can be learned from Mr. Cataldo’s unfortunate incident?

  • Report your injury to your employer as soon as possible.
  • Document the accident if possible.
  • Talk to your supervisor about any pain you are in, even if you’ve not sure if it was all work related.
  • Contact a qualified lawyer as soon as you’ve been injured at work.

Follow these tips and don’t miss any required steps in the claim process so that you won’t have to suffer the pain and frustration Mr. Cataldo did. Contact me to find out if you’ve missed any important steps or for a second opinion on your case.

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This post is also available in: Spanish

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