A workers compensation hearing is typically scheduled because there is a dispute over entitlement of benefits, or with the amount of benefits being received.
Typically workers' comp cases settle. But more complicated or polarizing cases are likely to require hearings in order to reach an agreement. Often times, this is to determine whether or not an injury is indeed work-related, or just how restricting an injury actually is. If you are assigned a hearing date, it is always best to prepare in advance.
If you do not have a workers' comp attorney, be sure to have your own copies of all medical records and medical bills incurred as a result of your injury. An attorney will usually gather these for you. Also, bring all medical devices and equipment with you that are relevant to your claim. These might include, for example, sunglasses to avoid headaches from bright lights, crutches and/or a cane, or your heating pad. Since workers' comp hearings tend to last only a few hours, you shouldn’t have to pack much, but some of the more complicated claims can last days on end, so prepare by packing a lunch and any daily medication you may need.
You and the insurance company will each get to present your side of the claims process dispute to the judge (sometimes called a hearing officer). You or your attorney will present your case, usually using accident reports, medical evidence, and testimony. You will get the chance to question witnesses and make legal arguments, as will the insurance company. Their attorney will get to question you as well.
Discovery involves gathering evidence to be used in a legal hearing, usually written documents. Both you and the insurance company will present your discovery packets to the judge to review. In workers' comp matters, this will usually include evidence of lost wages (via old pay stubs), medical records and bills, depositions from medical professionals, and employment records. It is best to start gathering copies of everything that you need as soon as you have a hearing date so that mailing delays can be accounted for. If possible, arrange to pick up records in person instead.
Remember, it is important to let the opposing counsel know far in advance of the hearing which documents you plan to submit to the judge. Most states also require that you send the other side copies beforehand. Violating discovery practices can cause the judge to bar your evidence and declare it inadmissible.
Most of the time, the injured party will be asked to testify at a workers' comp hearing. You will answer questions from your own workers' comp attorney (if you have one) and then by opposing counsel (cross examination). You will most likely be asked about how your injury occurred, what your limitations are, and what symptoms you suffer from, along with your current job duties, education and training. If you do not know the answer to a question, never guess or speculate. If applicable, state that you do not know or do not remember. Do not include what is considered “hearsay”, or what other people have told you but that you have not seen firsthand. This is generally considered inadmissible.
If you are asked to testify, prepare what you intend to say ahead of time to avoid confusion. Be sure to write down in detail your injury timeline, including primary care treatment and all referrals so that you know the proper sequence of events when asked. You will be placed under oath, and it is of the utmost importance to answer completely and honestly.
The judge usually does not make any decisions at your worker's comp hearing but instead will review all exhibits, testimony, and evidence and present his or her order within 30 to 90 days. The decision will be mailed to you or your attorney, the insurance company’s attorney, and the insurance company. If the judge rules against you, or for some other reason you disagree with the decision, you have to right to file an appeal. The appeal process and deadlines vary from state to state, but they should be stated and included with your copy of the judge’s order. Be sure to adhere to all deadlines, and if you have any questions, discuss them with your lawyer or any clerk at your local courthouse.
As long as you know what to expect, the process of preparing for a workers' compensation case will not be as tedious or nerve-wracking as it may appear to be. A lawyer can help to make sure you are prepared for your hearing and that you have the best possible chance at a settlement that meets your needs.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified workers’ compensation lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local workers’ compensation attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.