John M. Popelka
John M. Popelka focuses his practice exclusively representing public and private sector clients in the area of Workers’ Compensation law. Equally comfortable in the courtroom and at the negotiating table, a significant portion of his practice involves litigating and settling claims for union workers who suffer career-ending injuries, permanent total disability, catastrophic injuries requiring home modification and lifetime medical care, and death cases.
John joined Anesi Ozmon in 1993, and was named partner in 2001. Recognizing his dedication, commitment and leadership, the firm named him President and Managing Partner in 2018.
Highly respected by his peers and a leader in the field, his extensive appellate practice has led him to argue cases before the Illinois Appellate Court and the Illinois Supreme Court, generating decisions that have expanded the rights of working men and women in Illinois. He has authored articles on workers’ compensation law, and has been a featured speaker on the topic at seminars and at John Marshall Law School.
John skills have earned recognition from his fellow attorneys with an AV rating from Martindale Hubbell for over a decade. In addition, Thomson Reuters has ranked him as a Super Lawyer each year since 2013, and he has been recognized as a Best Lawyer in Workers’ Compensation Law by U.S News & World Report, The Leading Lawyers Network, The Best Lawyers in America as well as a 10 Best Attorneys in Illinois for Exceptional and Outstanding Client Service in Workers’ Compensation claims. He maintains memberships in several professional organizations including the American Association of Justice, the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, The Chicago Bar Association and the Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Association of Illinois. A longtime resident of Naperville, Ill., John volunteers with the Boy Scouts of America and is the proud parent of three Eagle Scouts.
John earned his law degree from John Marshall Law School and received his undergraduate degree in Economics from Marquette University.
“As the fourth President and Managing Partner in the firm’s distinguished 63-year history, I work each day to build on Anesi Ozmon’s success as we continue to exceed client expectations with jury verdicts and settlements in their favor with the highest possible monetary outcome.”
Some of John’s career highlights include:
- $1.5 million settlement for roofer who fell and sustained a closed head injury. He had previously opted out of coverage as an owner of the business the year prior to the injury. We prevailed on the theory that the insurance company’s failure to obtain a new opt out signature in the second year in writing nullified the choice, thereby entitling our client to payment of weekly benefits and medical care under the Workers’ Compensation Act.
- Award of permanent and total disability benefits for life to tool and die engineer who developed RSD in his right leg following a knee surgery in 1989. The claimant continued to work, but his case was kept open due to his significant monthly medical expenses for pain management. Both the employer and the worker’s compensation insurance carrier went bankrupt over the course of the next 20 years. In 2007, the claimant suffered an unrelated car accident, which caused the RSD to spread from his right lower extremity to his left lower extremity, thereby rendering him totally disabled. The Commission ruled that but for the underlying condition, the RSD would not have spread to the other extremity, thereby rendering his total permanent disability compensable. This award also included over $300,000 in back benefits and medical expenses.
- Award of benefits and medical expenses for Local 1 ironworker who injured knee at work, and subsequently aggravated both shoulders while using crutches to walk, resulting in the need for bilateral shoulder surgeries. Award included an order that vocational rehabilitation efforts by the employer were premature, due to the continuing medical condition of the bilateral shoulders. Award resulted in ironworker undergoing both bilateral shoulder surgeries and receiving follow-up treatment.
- $500,000 award and settlement for a Local 1 ironworker who suffered a second career-ending injury in the same occupation, which involved defending in the Appellate Court against an employer’s appeal of the Workers’ Compensation Commission’s original decision in favor of our client.
- $65,000 award. Expanded a $42,000 award including penalties and attorneys’ fees to $65,000 in the Circuit Court of Cook County for a Local 1 ironworker after the insurance company unilaterally refused to pay the full $42,000 award it believed to be excessive, despite the fact it chose not to file an appeal. The Circuit Court was persuaded to apply the underpayment first to the penalty and attorneys’ fee award and then impose additional penalties and fees on the remainder, thus avoiding the common law prohibition of penalties on penalties.
- Prevailed against the Workers’ Compensation insurance carrier which had denied the claim of a union painter injured when a scissors lift topped. Although, as owner of the painting firm, the injured party had opted out of Workers’ Compensation insurance coverage, we proved that under the duties he was performing, he was acting as a covered employee, not as the owner who opted out.
- Successfully argued the claim for wage differential payments based on union roofer’s journeyman’s pay scale vs. the apprentice pay rate even though the injured worker was an apprentice at the time he suffered the career-ending injury, based on the fact that he did complete the classes and testing required for journeyman status.
- Award of benefits to Local 1 ironworker who sustained a laceration to her hand on razor wire, and developed impingement syndrome in her shoulder following a tetanus injection. The shoulder surgery was awarded and her employer, Cook County, accommodated her permanent restrictions with office work, based on her union wages.
- Award of permanent total disability benefits for part-time secretary injured at work in 1994, who underwent multiple shoulder and cervical surgeries and subsequently developed RSD/CRPS. The case had previously been tried several years earlier when employer terminated benefits based on non-cooperation with vocational rehabilitation. Commission awarded benefits in that case also, finding that petitioner’s ongoing medical condition made vocational rehabilitation premature.
- Award of 50% loss of use of man as a whole plus lifetime medical benefits for forklift operator who injured shoulder at work, and continues working for employer while receiving ongoing pain management treatment.
- Award of benefits to radiology supervisor at Chicago hospital who injured low back after co-worker called in sick, causing her to lift several patients on her own. Award of weekly benefits included a period of time where employer alleged they could accommodate light duty restrictions but her treating physician recommended it was not safe for her to drive.
- Award of benefits for tool rental department supervisor who slipped on oil and fell against the wall. Before retaining counsel, claimant attempted to return to light duty work, but resigned from his position due to pain. Award included subsequent payment of weekly benefits after his physician took him back off work and recommended further treatment.
- $315,000 settlement for union boilermaker who injured his neck while working in the Quad Cities, but received his treatment in his home state of Arkansas.
- $300,000 settlement for union laborer working for a demolition company, who sustained crush injuries to his leg.
- $285,000 settlement for hospital worker who injured knee and underwent multiple surgeries. Claimant was provided vocational rehabilitation assistance that found him suitable work in a new career.
- $200,000 settlement for Local 1 ironworker, in conjunction with a $1.2 million third party global settlement, following a successful arbitration awarding brain surgery, lumbar surgery and over $175,000 worth of weekly benefits for Local 1 ironworker. Successfully proved that ironworkers pre-existing Chiari malformation of the brain stem was aggravated by the accident causing the condition to become symptomatic and require surgery where ironworker was awarded medical expenses for a congenital brain stem condition (Chiari malformation) that was aggravated during the course of physical therapy.
- $133,000 settlement for IT consultant injured while on assignment to Microsoft in Redmond, WA.
- Award of weekly and medical benefits to roofer who fell and fractured his wrist, and developed shoulder problems three months after the injury to a shoulder that had been previously been injured in another claim. The aggravation to the pre-existing condition in the shoulder was found compensable.
- Concrete construction foreman authorized by arbitrator to receive ongoing medical care for back and post traumatic depression, along with weekly benefits and $35,000 in penalties and attorneys’ fees despite the fact that the foreman’s treating physician released him to full duty work based on an invalid functional capacity evaluation. The employer’s collusion in the invalid FCE, coupled with a repeat evaluation that was valid and found the foreman was unable to return to his former occupation resulted in the award of penalties and fees. The case eventually settled for an additional $212,500.
- Award of prospective medical care ordered the employer to pay for cervical surgery for a female driver who injured her neck while she was unhooking an air hose from a 20-foot container on a train. Employer disputed the neck and cervical condition was related based on a report from its neurosurgeon expert.
- $227,960 settlement for union steel worker who injured his shoulder and neck in a slip and fall on his work premises.
- $175,000 settlement for car wash mechanic injured in a motor vehicle accident driving between worksites.
- $133,000 settlement for Village of Forest View firefighter injured while on duty.
- $100,000 settlement for automobile mechanic who suffered a triceps rupture at work.
- $50,000 settlement for airport electrician who injured his knee climbing into his truck to clear the runway for an approaching airplane at O’Hare. The settlement occurred following a successful trial awarding benefits, where the City of Chicago denied the injury arose out of his employment.
Year Joined Organization:
Areas of Practice
- Workers’ Compensation
- Social Security Disability
- Illinois 1986
- Wisconsin 1989
- Iowa 1989
- John Marshall Law School, Chicago, Illinois, 1986
- Marquette University, 1982
- Honors: Dean’s List
- Speaker, Workers’ Compensation Law, John Marshall Law School
- “Workers’ Compensation Basics,” Illinois Trial Lawyers Association Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois
- “Jurisdiction,” Illinois Trial Lawyers Association Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois
Professional Associations and Memberships
- American Association of Justice, Workers’ Compensation Section
- Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, Workers’ Compensation Section
- Chicago Bar Association, Workers’ Compensation Section
- Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Association of Illinois