A workers’ compensation trial is sometimes necessary to resolve a dispute that has arisen between an employee and their employer as a result of an injury they experienced while at work. If you’re preparing for one, here are four things you should expect in the trial.
A worker’s compensation trial doesn’t take place in a courtroom, but rather, in a hearing room. A representative of the insurance company sits at a table that’s opposite to another where the injured worker sits, while a judge will sit at another table. A court reporter is present to take down everything that’s said in the trial. At the beginning of the trial, the judge clarifies the issues that the injured worker and the insurance company both agree on, and these are called stipulations. This process is intentionally informal so that the injured worker, who may not have as much legal knowledge as the insurance company, is not at a disadvantage. Different states may have different requirements for the parties at this stage. For instance, amended rules in Texas based on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2)(B) require all parties to disclose expert qualifications. This includes all publications authored in the last decade, bibliographies, and resumes of their expert witnesses.
For this step, both the injured worker and the insurance company list their evidence so that the judge can review it. Either side is free to object to any evidence that they feel shouldn’t be admitted into evidence based on things such as the evidence being incomplete or was not presented to the other side before trial. Evidence includes medical treatment reports, employment records, hospital records from a medical expert, surveillance videos, medical evaluation reports, and medical deposition transcripts. Out of all these, medical reports are by far the most common form of evidence, as well as the most important.
Both parties receive a summary of all the events that took place at the trial before the final decision is issued. These findings include a summary of the testimony of any witnesses present, issues, and stipulations. If the final decision is to award the injured worker, this part of the trial is called a Findings and Award. If it denies them benefits, it’s called Findings and Order. The final scenario is if the judge doesn’t have enough facts to enable them to issue a decision. In this case, the judge requests additional evidence and the trial can be delayed until this information is found.
If an award is offered, the insurance company should pay a reasonable amount of permanent disability once it stops paying for temporary disability in the event that the worker suffered a disability. It’s common for the insurance company to dispute this or pay very little, leading to the trial taking place long after payments for a permanent disability should have been made. Once all has been agreed upon, there’s generally no difficulty in collecting the award. This is because employers are all required to have insurance. If for any reason the employer’s insurance company is unable to make payments, a government body may intervene and keep making the payments to the injured worker. Worker’s compensation trials generally favor the injured worker as their main purpose is to provide injured workers with benefits and not to make them prove that they were injured while at work.
When you keep this information in mind, you will likely have an easy time at your trial. Remember to be honest and factual while not oversharing information you haven’t been asked for.