Workers’ Compensation Claims Go to Trial, but Not the Way You Think
Worker’s compensation claims go to trial, but not in the traditional sense. A trial, in a personal injury lawsuit, generally resolves all outstanding issues. If the plaintiff wins then they are compensated some final amount. If the defendant wins, the plaintiff ends up with zero. The lawsuit is over (absent appeal).
Workers’ compensation claims are not adjudicated that way. For one, there is no judge. Commissioners, appointed by the governor, hear workers’ compensation disputes. Commissioners hold three different levels of hearings – informal, pre-formal, and formal. Commissioners preside over informal and pre-formal hearings to narrow or resolve issues. A formal hearing is held if the parties are unable to agree.
The biggest distinction between a formal hearing and a trial, is that a formal hearing usually does not fully resolve a workers’ compensation claim. Instead, the Commissioner rules only on the limited dispute before him/her. Over the lifetime of a workers’ compensation claim, it is possible to have multiple formal hearings.
For example, a Commissioner may hold a formal hearing on whether a respondent should pay for a particular medical procedure. Five years later, the same workers’ compensation claim may be back before the Commissioner to address whether a second procedure is necessary.
For a nice overview of the lifespan of a workers’ compensation claim, go here and here.