On January 7, 2013, city worker Reginald Williams Sr., who has worked with the Department of Transportation for over 20 years was injured on the job.
He was a passenger in an 18-wheel city truck when the driver miscalculated the height of a viaduct and ran into the overpass. The impact injured everyone riding in the cab and an ambulance was dispatched.
The next day, Williams was instructed to go to Mercy Works for Occupational Medicine and see the doctors that are part of the city’s workers’ compensation network.
Shortly after his accident, Williams applied for workmen’s compensation and was immediately awarded monthly benefits that started the same month of the accident, January 2013 and lasted until December 2014.
In a letter dated January 14, 2015, Monica Somerville, Director of the Workers’ Compensation Division, stated that Williams was to complete the paper work to be reinstated to “full duty” work in an “unrestricted capacity.” The letter was based on a Dr. Levin’s Independent Medical Examiner’s (IME) report that was written on December 3, 2014.
Dr. Levin, in addition to that report, also wrote a 53-page report addressed to a Patricia O’Connor chronicling Williams’ medical history throughout the life of his claim. The report is a compilation of all the visits that Williams made to the doctor’s office regarding his conditions while he received benefits, benefits that lasted for twenty-three months.
“I contacted my attorney and asked how could they terminate my benefits. He said it was based on the MRI report and the doctor’s opinion that I was able to go back to work full time,” Williams stated. “I told my attorney that someone was lying and he said we have to wait to see the report.”
Williams ended up firing his first attorney and hiring another after weeks went by with no progress on his case. Subsequently, he hired another attorney who also didn’t make any substantial progress and he too was fired after several months.
After obtaining a copy of the report, according to Williams, he came to the conclusion that Dr. Levin had incorrect information about his shoulder that wasn’t injured in the accident and somehow this information was used to justify terminating his case.
Attorney Mark Weissburg, who isn’t affiliated with the case, but specializes in Social Security and Workers’ Compensation is all too familiar with the decision to terminate clients.
“The City would have to explain its decision making process. Some employers fire injured workers as a way of scaring the remaining employees so they don’t report work injuries,” Weissburg said. “Other times an employer fails to follow the law and acts in ways that are contrary to the word and intent of the Workers’ Compensation Act.”
Throughout the 53 page report, it’s indisputably noted that Williams continues to experience severe back pain, and is commented on by several of the doctors that Dr. Levin uses in his final report.
“I continue to be in constant pain while taking Norco and Dr. Levin knows that I am,” Williams said. “I am sad that my request for surgery has been denied even though I did everything the city told my doctors to do. Just when I thought the city was about to approve my surgery, Dr. Levin said I didn’t need it. And my benefits were terminated.”
Attorney Weissburg said, “I’ve seen employers make decisions that not only hurt the injured worker, but are also not in the employer’s own best interests. When there are reasonable questions regarding the facts of a work injury, those should be investigated, but when it is clear that a worker was injured at work, the appropriate benefits should be paid in a timely manner.”
The question some ask is how the city of Chicago and one of its affiliated doctors says it is okay for a city employee, who is taking one of the most powerful pain killers known to man, to return to work in “full duty” in an “unrestricted capacity.”
The warning label for Norco states: “This medication may impair your thinking or reactions. Avoid driving or operating machinery until you know how Norco will affect you. Dizziness or severe drowsiness can cause falls or other accidents.”
The Chicago Defender attempted to contact Dr. Levin, Monica Somerville from Workers’ Compensation and Mr. Williams’ attorney, George Argionis, all declined to comment on this story.