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Race Matters in Workers’ Comp Settlements for Injured Illinois Construction Workers

Oct. 15, 2012
Can an employee’s race in any way impact the amount of his or her workers’ compensation settlement? According to research from the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, which found that white construction workers received significantly higher workers’ comp settlements than black or Hispanic construction workers who suffered similar injuries, it’s possible.

A new study reveals that injured construction workers in Illinois received higher workers’ compensation payments than their Hispanic or black counterparts – to the tune of an additional $6,000.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health assessed ethnic disparities among construction workers injured on the job by linking medical records data from the Illinois Department of Public Health and workers' compensation data from the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission between 2000 and 2005. In all, they evaluated 1,039 injury cases, including 724 white construction workers, 68 black, 168 Hispanic and 79 workers of other ethnicities.

They found that white, non-Hispanic construction workers in Illinois were awarded higher settlements – approximately $6,000 more – than Hispanic or black workers with similar injuries. The settlements for white workers were substantially higher despite controlling for average weekly wage, type of injury, injury severity, weeks of temporary disability, percent permanent partial disability, and whether or not the worker used an attorney – all factors that are known to contribute to the final decision for monetary compensation in the claims process.

White construction workers consistently were awarded the higher monetary settlements despite the fact that the mean percent permanent partial disability was equivalent to or lower than that in black and Hispanic construction workers, according to the study's authors. This was true for amputations, torso injuries, open wounds of the upper extremity and traumatic brain injury. The most common types of injuries for all workers were fractures, internal injuries, and open wounds.

The study does not explain why white construction workers would receive higher compensation, said Lee Friedman, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at UIC and lead author of the study.

"One explanation is that there is some systemic bias or prejudices occurring within the system," he said. "Or, it could be that the level of information and knowledge about how the system works  – and what can actually be litigated, disputed, or requested for compensation – might vary by ethnic group."

The study was published in the October issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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