Employers are required carry workers compensation insurance to cover employees for accidents or injuries on the job. Employees injured on the job submit a workers compensation claim. If the employer disputes the claim and refuses to pay the benefits, a formal hearing may be required. The rules and regulations of workers compensation hearings are state-specific, but there are some general procedures in common.
When a party requests a formal workers compensation hearing, a pre-hearing conference is scheduled. At the conference, the parties -- who may or may not be represented by attorneys -- meet and speak to the judge in order to clarify the issues. Often a settlement agreement is attempted. If no settlement is possible, the court will schedule a date for the formal hearing. In the time between the pre-hearing conference and the formal hearing, the parties may conduct discovery.
Discovery is a crucial phase in any legal proceeding. During discovery, both sides are entitled to information about the other side’s case so that the sides may adequately prepare for the hearing. Discovery can include deposing witnesses, sending the other side a set of questions to answer, and generally building and compiling the factual evidence to be used at the hearing. The parties must comply with the applicable discovery rules and can seek the judge’s help in enforcing valid discovery requests.
On the date of the formal hearing, both sides are entitled to present evidence supporting their claims. The side initiating the hearing -- usually the employee -- has the first opportunity. The employee, or whoever is initiating the hearing, will make an opening statement declaring to the judge what he intends to prove at the hearing. The opposing side is entitled to respond. After the opening statements, the parties present evidence by calling witnesses and introducing evidence relating to the workers compensation claim. After both parties have presented their case, the hearing ends, and the parties must wait for the judge’s decision.
Decision and Review
A decision is not typically given on the date of the hearing. Decisions may take weeks, since the judge must review all the evidence and come to a decision based on the applicable laws. In Colorado, for example, the judge usually issues a decision within 30 days after the hearing. Parties unhappy with the result may appeal by filing a petition with the court.