The vast majority of disputed workers' compensation claims are resolved through favorable settlements. For the small number of claims that can't be settled, workers' comp hearings offer a way for injured workers to finally reach an agreement with the insurance companies and get the compensation they deserve. The following answers a few questions you may have if you're scheduled to attend a formal hearing.
1. Who Attends the Hearing?
In addition to yourself and your attorney, you can also expect your employer's legal representative and/or the insurance company's attorney to be present. Witnesses, including medical experts, coworkers, and supervisors, may also be in attendance. Finally, the court reporter will also be there to produce a transcript of the hearing.
2. Is It Mandatory to Attend the Hearing?
As the injured party, your attendance at the workers' comp hearing is always mandatory except under certain circumstances. If you're seriously injured to the point where attending may be an extreme hardship, for example, the presiding judge may excuse your presence or devise alternative means for you to participate in the hearing.
3. What Evidence Is Needed?
The type and amount of evidence both sides will produce during the hearing depends on the nature of the workers' compensation claim itself. On your end, you'll need to prove the validity of your workers' comp claim by showing medical records substantiating your injuries, along with proof of unpaid medical bills and evidence of lost wages.
Eyewitness testimony may also be needed, depending on the particulars of your claim. For instance, your treating doctor can provide proof of your injuries through testimony. Coworkers and supervisors can also recount the events that occurred on the day of your injury.
4. What Exactly Goes On During the Hearing?
During the hearing, the presiding judge will call you and your witnesses to provide testimony under oath. This testimony will include the events surrounding your injury, how those injuries limit your capacity to work and perform other activities, and your attempts to return to work or seek other employment.
You'll also be subject to cross-examination by the insurance company's attorney, including questions about how long you waited to report your injuries to the right parties. The presiding judge may also ask questions of his or her own. Since you're under oath, you're required to answer their questions as truthfully and accurately as possible. Providing any evasive or downright dishonest answers could hurt your workers' comp case and lead to an unfavorable verdict.
5. How Should You Prepare for the Hearing?
You can prepare for your workers' compensation hearing by memorizing all of the facts surrounding your claim, including your physical limitations and current symptoms. You should also be able to summarize your testimony in a clear and coherent manner. Finally, you should gather as many expert witnesses as possible to support your claim and provide the relevant evidence. Fortunately, your workers' comp attorney can help you prepare for your case.
6. Will the Judge Issue a Decision After the Hearing?
In contrast to other court proceedings, the presiding judge won't make a decision at the end of the hearing. The judge will instead take all of the testimony and exhibits presented during the hearing into account and spend the next few weeks reviewing the information before rendering a verdict. During this time, both sides can submit written briefs to further bolster their arguments.
Under most circumstances, the judge will deliver his or her verdict within one to three months of the hearing's end. In the event the judge rules against your workers' compensation claim, you'll have a limited amount of time to appeal the decision.
7. Should You Hire an Attorney?
Dealing with a workers' comp claim on your own is never a good idea. Not only is the world of workers' comp law a complex one to navigate by yourself, but you'll also miss out on the knowledge and expertise an experienced workers' comp attorney provides. Anytime you're dealing with workers' comp issues, you should always have an attorney by your side. Contact an attorney in your area to learn more about this topic.
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