Reversing a denial of a workers compensation claim almost always requires going through a hearing before a judge. The workers’ comp hearing will feel a lot like a trial, and you should take it every bit as seriously.
Before the Hearing
Start by hiring an attorney who devotes much of their practice to advising and representing workers who get injured on the job or who develop occupational illnesses. Then spend time with your lawyer preparing to make your best case for workers’ comp benefits.
Do not plan to go for your hearing immediately, however. The judge in charge of your case will generally order you to try to reach a negotiated or mediated settlement. As workers compensation lawyer Columbus, we encourage our clients to enter the negotiation or mediation process in good faith. We also warn our clients that the insurance company that is acting on behalf of their employer and the workers’ comp program has the goal of minimizing its payments.
As the client, you may not have to attend negotiation or mediation sessions in person. You will absolutely need to understand and sign off on any agreement that is reached before a hearing is conducted by the judge. Stayin close contact with your lawyer and do not shy away from asking basic questions like, “Do you think accepting this settlement offer is in my best interest?” and “What rights will I have to ask for additional coverage of medical costs if I accept this settlement?”
Also gather and review the accident report you made to your employer, records from treatment for your work-related injury or illness, doctor and pharmacy bills, and notes from therapists. Go over this material with your workers’ comp lawyer, and talk about which question you will be asked. Practice answering likely questions, as well, concentrating on sticking to the facts and staying calm under pressure.
Arrive for your workers’ comp hearing on time and dress like you are going for a job interview. Plan to spend all day at the court or hearings office. In other words, take along medications and other necessarily medical supplies.
Your lawyer will make an opening statement and present evidence and exhibits. The lawyers for your employer and its insurance company will do the same. When you get called to testify, be ready to discuss all of the following topics:
- Your duties at work before you suffered your injury or became too sick to stay on the job
- How you got injured or when symptoms of your occupational illness developed
- Your symptoms from the injury or illness
- How your symptoms impacted your ability to work and live normally
- Treatments and therapies you received
- When you returned to work, if you have, and whether you continue experiencing problems from your injury or illness
Your own lawyer and those on the other side will ask you questions. The judge may also seek clarifications on certain points. When you do not know an answer, say, “I don’t know.” Never speculate, and try to avoid volunteering information no one asked you to share.
Other witnesses may testify on your behalf and against you. If you object to what someone else says, tell this directly to your lawyer. Only your legal representative has the right to raise objections and cross-examine witnesses. You will only be permitted to speak when the judge permits you to do so.
Waiting for a Decision
Once all evidence and testimony are presented, both sides are given opportunities to make closing statements. The hearing ends without a decision by judge, who has as long as three months to issue a written ruling. If the judge decides against you, you may be able to appeal. The deadline for appealing is short, however, so contact your lawyer soon after learning of a negative hearing outcome.
Gregory R. Mitchell is a lawyer and partner at Agee Clymer Mitchell & Portman represents clients in medical malpractice, workers compensation, personal injury and Social Security Disability lawyer Columbus Ohio.