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Things to Expect When You’re Hurt at Work–Litigation

[fusion_dropcap color="var(--awb-custom_color_7)" class="fusion-content-tb-dropcap"]N[/fusion_dropcap]ot all workers’ compensation claims end up in litigation, even when you hire an attorney. Whether yours is litigated depends on the facts of your specific situation and what is to your benefit. If your claim does end up in litigation, here is what you need to know.

You will be involved in a formal lawsuit against your employer and/or the workers’ compensation carrier. That can seem intimidating, but you can expect communication from your attorney about the progress of your case to keep you informed and make you feel more comfortable with the process.

Litigation has stages. The longest of these is the pre-trial portion. That is when the parties do “discovery” which is the formal investigation and exchange of relevant information in the case. A big part of discovery is written questions and requests for documents. The lawyers prepare these requests and the parties assist in providing answers and the requested documents. You are not required to generate a requested document if you don’t have it or have access to it. Usually the documents produced are medical records, bills, incident reports, employment files, written statements, and any letters or emails to doctors or other experts or between you and your employer. You will likely need to produce tax information for prior years and may end up signing release forms so the other side can obtain other relevant documents from the person who has those documents.

You will also answer formal questions and those responses are given under oath. The questions are all pretty standard and similar, and an experienced attorney will help you through the process of providing the factual information the way it needs to be provided.

You can also likely expect to have your deposition taken. That is where you and your attorney (if you have one) appear in person or by video conference and the attorney for the employer asks you questions about your claims and anything relevant to the claim. Your answers are provided under oath just like when you testify in court. This can be intimidating and an experienced workers’ compensation attorney will know how to make you feel comfortable and ready to provide your testimony. The other attorney uses the deposition to gather information from you, highlight potential inconsistencies in your testimony, nail down what your trial testimony will be, and to assess your credibility.

After discovery, your case will be set for trial. Trials are often continued, which means it is set but then one or both sides need more time for more discovery. Your ongoing treatment may affect the trial date as well. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney will recommend more time when that is strategically to your advantage and will oppose a continuance when it is not. That does not always mean the Court will agree with your position and it is very common that trial is postponed.

Once the trial is a go, though, your attorney will prepare you very much like with your deposition and will make you feel comfortable about the process by explaining where to go for trial, how the courtroom is laid out, what to expect during trial, what you should wear, etc., so that you are relaxed and ready to tell the judge your story.

Trials are before a single workers’ compensation judge. A court reporter will take down everything everyone says, and you will almost certainly testify. There may be other witnesses as well. Much of the evidence is documents, which the attorneys will give to the judge. Trials usually last 2-3 hours.

Once the trial is over, the judge takes the case “under advisement.” That means the judge will review all of the documents and also all of the testimony. The judge will also consider the closing arguments given by the attorneys (or you if you have no attorney). The closing argument can be written or given at the time of the hearing. Unlike a personal injury case in front of a jury where the jury deliberates for hours or days and then everyone comes back to court for the verdict and monetary judgment, the workers’ compensation judge will issue a written decision. That decision is emailed to the attorneys or mailed to you if you are not represented. That decision will tell you what the judge decided on all of the case issues.

Either party may appeal the judge’s decision, but appeals are relatively rare. If you are represented by Fox Law you can expect us to call you as soon as we receive the decision and know what the judge said. The appeal window is 30 days and we will give an explanation of the decision and recommendations to appeal or not right away.

After the decision is final, additional disputes may arise and so hearings, modifications, and even additional trials could all happen in your case. Unlike personal injury where you are awarded a lump sum money judgment (or not), workers’ compensation awards can continue for years after the decision with weekly payments and ongoing medical being awarded. However, if your claim was dismissed by the Court, that ends the chance for further hearings once that dismissal is final.

You can still settle your case after trial and after a decision, and that does end the litigation process, generally, once the settlement is final. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can assist you with what to expect with the process in your individual case, but specific results are not guaranteed. Call us today for a consultation.

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