The Workers’ Compensation Hearing
If you are headed for a trial or hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, you should understand that this experience is not likely going to be pleasant. The costs increase, your stress level soars and, when it is all over and done with, there is still no guarantee you will like the Judge’s decision. A hearing is about winning and losing and not at all about compromise or cooperation. Attorneys for each side will do whatever they can do to present their client’s position in the most favorable light. Be prepared to be bashed. Do not be surprised if the insurance company has surveillance films of you or tries to bring out negative information concerning what you can do or what you have done in the past. It is your attorney’s job to make sure that he uses the same tactics against the opposing side. Hearings are taken very seriously by the parties.
Before you go to a hearing, you should make certain that you really want to go to trial and that you have thought long and hard about the risks that you run by going to trial. Remember, the Administrative Law Judge may not view everything the same way you do and never assume that just because you think you have a strong case that you will automatically win. You have to ask yourself such questions as does the risk of losing outweigh the benefits you may receive by going to court? Are you better off compromising?
Despite all the problems or negative things that may come about as a result of the hearing, sometimes, it is your only and best option. Many times the insurance company is unwilling to compromise or concede that you have any further entitlement to benefits and, as such, the only thing left to do is to go before an Administrative Law Judge and let the Judge decide.
When preparing for a hearing, remember that this is very time-consuming work for your attorney. Your attorney will review and gather all of the information related to your case and take any necessary depositions of physicians or other witnesses whose testimony will be relevant to the issues before the Judge. Your attorney should have a good trial strategy. You should remember that your attorney gathers a lot of information by using the formal discovery process which involves taking depositions, requesting medical reports and/or requesting information from the employer and insurance company to find out everything that can possible be found out prior to a hearing. Usually, doctors are not called on to testify at the hearing but have their depositions taken ahead of time. You can find out how the doctors will testify by reviewing their depositions and/or looking at their notes.
When you finally get to court (likely after waiting some months), your attorney will already have had several discussions with the opposing attorney and possibly the Judge. In the court room, you will sit with your attorney at a table directly in front of the judge, or at a long conference table with the judge at the end and the opposing parties on the other side. It is a given that you will probably be nervous about what to expect. It may not be your first time going to a hearing. Your case will usually move along slowly and have many stops and starts, so be prepared to “hurry up and wait.”
The hearing will likely begin with a presentation of contentions by each side and a recitation of what both sides can agree upon or stipulate to. Then the injured worker’s or claimant’s attorney will present the claimant’s case. This will likely start with the testimony of the claimant and may follow with witnesses who will be cross-examined. There will then be the possibility of a redirect examination. After the injured worker has presented his case, the employer/insurer will present its case using a similar procedure to that of the injured worker. The injured worker may have an opportunity to rebut some of the information or evidence provided by the employer/insurer. On occasion, the employer/insurer have the burden of proof and they will have to go first.
When you get to a hearing, remember that you should always tell the truth and answer the questions asked in a straight-forward and truthful manner. Appearances do count so you should wear something simple and understated and try to be as clean and neat as possible. You should always try to be polite and listen attentively.
The Administrative Law Judge who hears your case is responsible for ensuring that you get a fair trial and that the attorneys with their clients follow the appropriate trial procedure. The Judge will also rule on any objections the attorneys may make to the introduction of evidence or the testimony of a witness.
During the hearing, the Judge listens to the testimony and the attorneys’ statements and will review all exhibits that are entered into evidence. The attorneys will ask questions, but the judge may also ask questions of the witnesses and will almost certainly take notes. A court reporter is also present to take down all that is said to prepare a transcript of the proceedings.
After the hearing, each side will have the opportunity to file a brief upon receipt and review of the hearing transcript. The Administrative Law Judge will not likely issue a decision immediately at the conclusion of a hearing. It may take months to receive the Judge’s decision. Your attorney cannot speed up this process and it is important to realize that the Judge will and should consider all evidence that was tendered in the case.
If you or someone you know has been seriously injured, contact us online or call us at 404-474-3460 for a FREE consultation to discuss your legal options.