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THE INJURY LAWYERS YOU WANT

  • Justice Department considering investigation of Illinois residential centers over allegations of child abuse

    In Illinois, disadvantaged juveniles who are in state care are often sent to a residential treatment center. The residential treatment is intended to provide help to these children who struggle with family issues, drug use, alcohol use, behavioral problems and mental health. However, an in-depth investigation into these centers by the Chicago Tribune revealed that instead of treatment, these youth are often victims of violent acts. Now the U.S. Justice Department is said to be considering an investigation into these centers over the allegations of child abuse.

    The months’ long investigation uncovered stories of youth who had been revictimized by those who were supposed to help them as well as by other patients. Over 1,000 reports were filed by treatment centers during 2011 and 2013 over physical assaults made on wards of the state. Additionally, the centers submitted 428 reports concerning a sexual assault on a state ward. Former residents of these facilities, now over the age of 18, recounted experiences that included physical restraints by staff, gang fighting, committing crimes, stabbings, bullying from other residents, engaging in prostitution, smoking marijuana and sexual assault including rape.

    The investigation also revealed that law enforcement and the Department of Child and Family Services often ignored state law concerning the age of sexual consent. As a result, many sexual abuse or assault claims were considered consensual and dismissed, exposing children to further abuse. In spite of high records of assaults, runaway youth and sexual abuse, the state continued sending juvenile wards to these facilities.

    To escape these violent environments hundreds of youth run away and find themselves on the streets where there are little options open to them. To support themselves, they often enter prosecution or commit crimes – anything to keep from going back to the centers. Adding to the problem is the lack of staffing and the inability of facilities to protect children. For some centers, there is a lack of concern over victims of violence and their reluctance to act encourages the abuse and assaults to continue.

    With the emergence of this information, the Justice Department is considering the allegations and may decide to step in. This is something that Senator Mark Kirk from Illinois is hoping for. He has already asked the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to take action and will be approaching Medicaid and asking them to cut those facilities from health care funding. Here in Illinois, two new legislative bills have been introduced with the intent to address the issue and protect these vulnerable kids from further harm.

  • Illinois program providing temporary driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants highly successful

    It is estimated that over 11 million people in the United States today are undocumented immigrants and out of that number over 511,000 of that population live here in Illinois. Despite the fact they are not legal visitors or residents, these people purchase property, create businesses, work and drive on the state’s roads. Driving is considered a privilege and people who are issued driver’s licenses have taken a course on driver safety and studied the state’s road laws. Many undocumented immigrants are driving without formal training or understanding of these laws and this puts them at risk of getting into a car accident and harming others.

    Last year, Illinois sought to improve road safety by providing a program that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license which is valid for up to three years. The program, called a temporary visitor driver’s license, requires undocumented immigrants to show the following:

    • Proof of insurance
    • Pass written driving test
    • Pass road test
    • Pass vision test
    • Proof of residency in Illinois for at least one year

    While the licenses make it legal for undocumented immigrants to drive, they cannot be used as a form of identification and they are color coded to indicate their difference from a regular driver’s license. Furthermore, these licenses are only for driving a car or motorcycle – they do not permit holders to operate commercial vehicles.

    Since its launch, around 190,000 people have contacted the state to set up appointments to obtain the special license and over 85,000 people have received one. The program encourages immigrants to study driving rules in Illinois, thereby helping them understand what road signs mean and how to identify crosswalks. Immigrants can also sign up for driving courses that help them develop defensive driving skills, avoid engaging in dangerous behaviors such as distracted driving and tailgating, and how to navigate heavy traffic without putting themselves and others in danger.

    Recently the Chicago Tribune pointed out that almost 800 traffic accidents occur in the state daily. In 2013, the state saw a 4 percent increase in crashes. Some believe this rise is due to the drop in gasoline prices which has encouraged people to drive more. Factors that contributed to the accidents include speeding, alcohol use, weather, wildlife on roadways and inexperience. Now that Illinois has opened a path for undocumented drivers to obtain a license, it is hoped that fewer accidents will be the result.

  • New Illinois law provides help to victims of school bullying

    Valentine’s Day is designed to show love and acceptance but it is not uncommon for school bullies to twist that intent to make their victims feel unworthy of such affection. Bullying Statistics.org estimates that in 2010 one in seven students at schools across the nation, including here in Illinois, were either bullied or acted as a bully. Over the last several years, bullying has taken more victims as bullies use texting, social media and other electronic methods to harass and humiliate others. Now Illinois hopes a new law will provide help to students who are victims of bullying.

    The new law, which went into effect last month, amends the state’s School Code. Previously, the law gave Illinois schools the power to investigate cyberbullying that occurred through a school-owned electronic device. Now, the law allows schools to expand their investigations to bullying claims that don’t involve school-owned computers as well as school-sponsored activities, functions or programs if the bullying causes a disruption to the school or the educational process.

    One example would be a student who is at home and creates a web page or blog under the identity of another student. That student then posts images or messages which cause psychological and emotional harm to the victim. Those posts or web page are shared with other students at the school and word spreads through texted and emailed links. At school, the victim is taunted by others over the existence of this online content and is unable to focus on schoolwork. The school is notified of the cyber-bullying and could use the new amendment to look at the bully’s electronic actions. If other students also shared the content with more than one person, the school could investigate them for bullying as well.

    Under the new law, schools must create a process on how they will determine whether the alleged bullying falls under their jurisdictions. Schools investigating a bullying incident are also required to provide helpful information to the alleged victims such as community bullying programs, support services and counseling.

    Recently, one school district sent parents into a panic after sending out a letter stating that students may have to give their social media passwords to their school. This was incorrect as Illinois made it illegal for schools to ask for students’ passwords to social media sites in a new law last year. Victims and their parents can provide proof of bullying to the school through a screen shot or a copy of a text.

  • Medical Marijuana Access Extended to Children in Illinois

    Starting this year, children in Illinois who struggle with severe medical conditions such as cancer, muscular dystrophy and epilepsy will now have access to medical marijuana. The change comes after parents lobbied lawmakers to expand the 2014 legislation which legalized marijuana as a medical treatment for adults.

    While the debate over medical marijuana has grown in recent years, research shows that as far back as the 1980s the drug was shown to be effective for people suffering with epilepsy. According to Medical News Today, Epilepsy is a condition that affects the electrical activity of the brain. Within the human brain electrical signals are constantly sent and received by cells. These signals control everything from breathing to memory to muscle control. Epilepsy causes these electrical signals to increase and this creates a communication error to occur between the cells. When this happens, the person experiences what is known as a seizure.

    It is estimated that epilepsy affects 2.5 million Americans and many of these are children. Epilepsy has many causes including birth injury, brain tumors, an infectious illness, strokes, prenatal brain malformation and chromosome disorders. It is also thought that a genetic condition can cause epilepsy to develop in families. Some forms of epilepsy can even raise a child’s mortality rate by 15 or 20 percent. While there are many drugs on the market, these can cause severe side effects for children which include the following: blistering, heart rhythm changes, sleeping problems, cognitive slowness, hyperactivity and even large skin areas that peel off. Additionally, many of the drugs are ineffective.

    Medical researchers discovered that the marijuana plant contains a chemical compound called Cannabidiol. This is the compound often used in medical marijuana products and has been proven as an effective treatment in epilepsy as well as cancer and other serious conditions. In epilepsy, medical marijuana has been proven to reduce the number of seizures that a child has and appears to have no negative side effects, including a psychoactive “high.”  Recently, researchers at the University of Utah recommended that all children with severe epilepsy as well as other conditions have access to the drug.

    Under the new Illinois law, children can only receive medical marijuana in food or through liquid. Furthermore, parents or legal guardians must give their consent and two doctors’ recommendations are required. To receive the medical drug, photos of the children must be submitted and as well as fingerprints of the caregivers.

  • Chicago Approves New Higher Minimum Wage That Surpasses Illinois’ Plan

    When the economic downturn occurred a few years ago, thousands of people throughout the United States, including Illinois, began to gather in rallies and protests over the economic divide that existed between them and the higher classes. These protests have led to movements here in Illinois and Chicago to raise the minimum wage for all workers. Here in Illinois, the majority of voters agreed in November that Illinois should pass a law to raise the state’s minimum wage over the next two years to $11 an hour.

    However, Chicago has taken the plan one step further to assist over 400,000 workers in the city who currently make $8.25 an hour. With the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the city council has voted to raise Chicago’s wage to $13 an hour over the next four years. This year, workers’ wages will rise to $10 an hour, putting Chicagoans at a higher rate than other Americans. The mayor argues that this will give struggling workers the ability to meet the rising costs in living and hopefully encourage the state to follow the city’s example. Housing costs in Chicago is estimated to be 30 percent higher than in other cities and many live at or below the poverty line.

    Before the decisive vote, many people in Chicago were pushing for an increase to $15 an hour, which would put Chicago on an advanced track with Seattle, Washington, and San Francisco, California. The argument is that increasing the wage will make life better for everyone but small business owners in the city disagree. During the city council’s vote, small business owners stated that they believe raising the minimum wage will actually hurt the city, making it less attractive to companies. They argued that small businesses may find it impossible to meet the higher wage for their workers and leave Chicago for areas where the minimum wage is less. It is even believed that some businesses could be forced to close if they are unable to afford the higher wage for workers.

    While Chicago’s vote is good news to Chicagoans who support raising the wage, it has caused problems with the state legislature. Many are talking about taking away the city’s right to make that decision and businesses in Illinois are banding together to protect their interests in the matter. Currently, legislators are holding off a vote on state legislation that would raise the wage in Illinois, putting other minimum wage workers in limbo.

  • Over 100 Babies Saved Through Illinois’ Safe Haven Law

    For many people in Illinois, the birth of a newborn baby is a momentous event. However, some mothers and fathers may feel unprepared for this next step in their lives. Teen mothers, for example, may have hidden their pregnancy from their family and panic when they give birth. Even older mothers may find themselves in a difficult situation economically and decide that they cannot afford to care for the child. As a result, many of these parents try to pretend the pregnancy never happened and often abandon their babies in dumpsters where their chance of survival is slim.

    Dawn Geras, founder of the charity, Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, learned that in Alabama, teen mothers were able to bring their newborns to local emergency rooms and legally abandon them. Concerned over the fate of unwanted infants in Illinois, Geras and a group of others wrote the first draft of a piece of legislation that was eventually passed as the Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act, commonly referred to as the Safe Haven Law.

    That was 13 years ago.  Under the law, parents may bring their infant to a hospital, a police station or even a firehouse within 30 days of the child’s birth. No questions will be asked of the infant and there are no legal actions taken against the parents. The infants are placed with couples and families, and eventually adopted. Lawmakers have made regular changes to the law over the years, requiring public schools to educate students in 6th through 9th grade about their options should they become pregnant, and setting up police stations on college campuses as a safe haven site.

    While originally legislators were nervous about a safe haven law, there is no doubt that it has saved lives. Recently, Illinois received its 100th baby as well as two more. Still, Geras feels that more can be done. While dozens of babies have been saved, dozens more have been illegally abandoned. Since the law’s passing, 72 babies have been left in closets or garbage cans and many have not survived. One baby found recently in a dumpster was found just in time. Geras and her volunteers know that the only way to prevent the illegal abandonment of these infants is to go out and speak to the public about the law. They stress to young teens that they do not have to give their name when they surrender the infant and that there is a waiting list of couples who are ready to take these children and provide them with a loving home and family.

  • New Illinois Bill Makes it Possible to Fight City Hall

    City governments in Illinois have the right to issue a citation and fine to property owners for a number of reasons. These reasons may include failure to care for one’s yard, installing the wrong type of fence, parking a vehicle in the street during a snow storm when the plows are out, a barking dog that is disturbing the neighbors, and property that has been left neglected and poses a safety risk to others. However, in some cases cities have overstepped their boundaries and issued unfair fines to residential property owners, who often had no choice but to pay them. Now, a new law passed by state lawmakers is giving property owners the ability to challenge City Hall.

    Public Act 98-1105, which has been signed by Gov. Pat Quinn, empowers residential property owners who feel they have been improperly fined by their city. Under the new law, property owners can file a challenge against a city fine in circuit court and request that the city pay their legal costs if the court rules in their favor. The court will conduct an administrative review of the city’s code compliance, examine the property owner’s situation and decide whether to reverse the city fine or approve it.

    If the court rules in favor of the residential property owner, the court may order the city to pay the owner’s attorney fees and court costs. Prior to the passing of the bill, property owners had to foot their own legal costs and oftentimes, the costs were greater than the actual fine. This left property owners in a difficult position with little options but to pay an unfair fine to the city.

    The bill was initiated by The Illinois Rental Property Owners Association as an amendment to the state’s Code of Civil Procedure. One supporter of the bill, the Rockford Apartment Association, believes that cities will be more careful about issuing fines to property owners and if fines are issued, they will be fair ones. The new legislation only applies to owners of single family or multifamily residential dwellings in a municipality with a population of less than 500,000. The legislation goes into effect on January 1, 2015.

  • Illinois Gov. Signs Pregnancy Discrimination Bill

    Starting January 1, 2015, pregnant women in Illinois will have more protection in the workplace, thanks to a new bill passed by lawmakers this year. Gov. Pat Quinn recently signed House Bill 8 which amends the Illinois Human Rights Act, requiring state employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. The bill was a collaborative effort between Gov. Quinn, Representative Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) and Senator Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights) to address the widespread problem of discrimination against pregnant women by employers.

    Under the new law, employers must give pregnant women more frequent bathroom breaks, a private non-bathroom space for breastfeeding, places where they can sit and rest, help with manual labor tasks, limits on lifting heavy objects and time to recover after giving birth. The new amendment also gives pregnant women protection from termination; employers must reinstate an employee to her original or equivalent position after the pregnancy unless the employer can demonstrate that doing so would be an undue hardship.

    Similar to American Disability Act accommodations, if an employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the ordinary operation of the employer’s business, the employer does not have to provide it. However, the hardship must be either prohibitively expensive or disruptive to the employer. The new law mandates that the employee and employer engage in a timely and meaningful dialogue in order to determine effective and reasonable accommodations. The employer may require medical certification from the employee’s health care provider but that certification only includes a medical justification for the requested accommodation, a description of the reasonable accommodation required, the date(s) of the accommodation and the duration of the accommodation.

    The amendment applies to every employer in Illinois – not just those with 15 or more employees. It also prohibits employers from requiring pregnant employees to use an accommodation they didn’t specifically request, such as an assignment to light duty. Gov. Quinn points out that women should not be placed in a position where they either have to choose their job or the health of their baby. The bill is aimed at protecting mothers who are single parents and in the low-income bracket but will apply to every pregnant employee.

    As an employer, you should review, with your attorney, your policies on reasonable accommodations and medical certification, as well as your employee handbook and training for managers and supervisors. You must post a notice regarding pregnancy accommodation rights in January 2015.

    If, as an employee, you feel that your employer has not offered reasonable accommodations for your condition, you should consider contacting an attorney.

  • Ban the Box

    Recently, Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act. Commonly referred to as “ban the box” legislation, it prohibits Illinois employment agencies and private employers, with 15 or more employees, from prescreening applicants over a criminal record or history. Under the new law, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, employers and employment agencies cannot ask applicants to disclose information as to whether they have been convicted of a crime, or conduct a background check on applicants, during the initial application process. Employers and employment agencies are further required to change their application forms to remove any questions or boxes that ask the applicant about a criminal background.

    Employers who are prohibited by state or federal law to hire an applicant with a specific type of conviction are allowed to ask whether an applicant has been convicted of that crime. If applicants would need to obtain a standard fidelity bond as part of their employment, the employer can ask them whether they have been convicted of crimes that would prevent their approval for such a bond. Additionally, Emergency Medical Services Systems Act employers are allowed to inquire about an applicant’s criminal history or conviction. Employers who fall under these conditions may inform applicants in writing that they are not eligible for employment due to policy or existing law.

    Once applicants have been invited in for an interview or a position is officially offered to them, employers do have the right to inquire about whether they have a criminal background or conviction. Employers should examine their hiring processes to ensure that they comply with the new law and will face civil penalties from the Illinois Department of Labor if they violate the act. These penalties include the following:

    • First violation – written warning and 30 days to correct the violation
    • Second violation or failure to comply with the law from a first violation – civil penalty up to $500.
    • Third violation or failure to comply with the law from a first violation within 60 days – civil penalty up to $1,500
    • Additional violations or failure to comply with the law from a first violation within 90 days – additional civil penalties of $1,500 each 30 days that the employer fails to comply

    The Illinois Department of Labor also has the right to file a civil action against employers in order to collect these penalties. It is expected that under the new law, applicants in Illinois who have a criminal history or record, will have a better chance to find employment and employers will have more qualified applicants to select from.

  • Google Accused of Trade Secret Infringement

    In the past, lawyers for multiple small companies have accused search engine giant, Google Inc., of stealing and profiting from their clients’ trade secrets. In the case of VSL Communications, lawyers claim that Google did the same thing and left a paper trail of Post-it notes as evidence.

     

    London-based VSL Communications is accusing Google of stealing its proprietary method for shrinking video and audio files without any sacrifice in sound or image quality. The suit, filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court this past month, claims that Google used those trade secrets to enhance all of its streaming and downloading technology including YouTube, Google Play and Google Earth.

     

    The complaint alleges that Google coerced VSL into handing over trade secret information. A Google executive contacted VSL’s CEO to discuss the possibility of buying VSL’s video streaming and downloading technology. Google signed a nondisclosure agreement and VSL then provided the Google team with three CDs that contained working versions of its technology, 400 files and photocopies of additional VSL trade secrets as well as charts comparing the VSL technology with that of its competitors’. The complaint states that VSL did not know that”… behind the scenes, Google had devised a scheme to steal the VSL trade secrets and incorporate them into Google’s own products without compensating VSL for their use.”

     

    After discussions between the two companies came to a standstill over eight months later, VSL decided the deal was not going to go through and asked Google to return its intellectual property. Google returned the disks but the files and material were now covered with Post-it notes that contained information including the following:

     

    • Google employees should delete any incriminating emails
    • Google was concerned over the possibility of infringement regarding products in development
    • Engineers at Google should “close eyes to existing IP”
    • Google needed to speak with outside counsel about a non-infringement opinion
    • Google should consider infringement lawsuit risk
    • Concern over recklessness label on its infringement

     

    The complaint alleges that Google began to amend its preexisting patent applications and file new applications using VSL’s technology. In early 2012, VSL noticed that Google’s software showed significant improvement after VSL had provided access to its files and, upon examination, VSL staff found that VSL technology had been used in the company’s publicly available code. The complaint states that “Defendants’ theft of VSL’s trade secrets pervades virtually every website and product offered by defendants.”

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    Our firm handles workers' compensation and personal injury claims in Chicago, Berwyn, Joliet, Cicero, Waukegan, Chicago Heights, Elgin, Aurora, Oak Park, Oak Lawn, Schaumburg, Bolingbrook, Glendale Heights, Aurora, Niles, Schaumburg, Arlington Heights, Naperville, Plainfield and all of Cook, DuPage, Lake, Will, McHenry, LaSalle, Kankakee, McLean and Peoria Counties.