Workers Compensation Trials
What to expect at your hearing
The State of California strongly encourages the parties to all workers' compensation cases to settle out of court, even going so far as to require them to attend a mandatory settlement conference. Nevertheless, some cases cannot be settled and need to go to trial before the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board.
At Robert A. McLaughlin, APC, we know the prospect of going to trial can be exceptionally stressful. Here's what you need to know:
- Workers' compensation trials are less formal than civil or criminal trials - There is no jury and no audience. The trial is held in a small room with the parties involved - that is, you, your attorney, a representative of your employer or their insurance company and their attorney - as well as an administrative law judge (ALJ) who will decide the case and a court reporter. If you bring a friend or relative for "moral support," he or she may or may not be able to enter the courtroom, depending on space availability and whether the defense attorney or ALJ objects.
- Doctors usually do not testify - At a workers' compensation trial, the medical testimony is almost always given by way of a written report, not with a doctor coming to the trial in person. This generally makes these trials shorter than civil trials.
- You will be called to testify - Your own attorney will ask you questions, and your answers will serve as your "direct testimony." That means that when we ask a client a question, we're not allowed to ask a leading question such as "Did you hurt your back and your foot at work?" That question effectively includes an answer: that the back and foot were injured on the job. Instead, we are required to ask "What parts of your body were injured?" That's why it's so important that we invest time in preparation for direct testimony before the trial.
- The defense attorney will cross-examine you - While your attorney is not allowed to ask leading questions, the attorney representing your employer can. For instance, a defense attorney could ask, "Didn't you trip and fall down the stairs at home before you came to work that day?" Questions like these are another reason why it's so important that we help you prepare for your trial - and why we need to discuss the entire incident in detail. If you retain Robert A. McLaughlin, APC, any conversations you have with us in preparation for your trial will be protected by attorney-client privilege.
- Other witnesses may be called to testify - The attorneys representing each side list the witnesses they intend to call and the written documents relied upon during the pre-trial mandatory settlement conference, so you and your attorney should already know about each one. Witnesses may include co-workers or others who directly witnessed the accident. They may also include people who performed an investigation on behalf of the insurance company. Expert witnesses are not usually called in workers' compensation cases, though there are exceptions.
- There is no written transcript - Instead of writing down everything that is said, the court reporter will write down a summary of the testimony dictated by the judge based on his or her own notes. The court will mail you this summary. You should review it for inaccuracies and notify your attorney if something is amiss.
- Trials can be very short - or very long - In many cases, only a few aspects of the claim are under dispute, which can make the trial quite short. However, if the trial cannot be finished on the day it is scheduled, it will not continue to the next day. Rather, the court will continue the case to a date two or three months later. If the trial doesn't finish on that day, it will be continued again - with another two or three months in between. We've seen especially complicated trials take years to finish.
- You will wait for your decision - It's highly unusual for an ALJ to render a decision on the day of trial. Rather, you will be mailed the decision sometime after the trial, usually within 90 days. The final Finding & Award will indicate whether or not your injury was suffered at work and, if it was, the amount of disability and whether you are entitled to future medical care.
The idea of facing the insurance company directly before a judge - not to mention waiting for months to complete the trial and get a decision - can be overwhelming. You may be tempted to accept a settlement that doesn't fully pay for the cost of your injury just to get the process over with. We understand how difficult it is to go to trial - but we also know it's sometimes the only way for our clients to get all the benefits they need to move forward. That's why we'll stand with you, help you prepare and advocate for you throughout your trial.
If you've been hurt at work and are embroiled in a dispute with your employer, you need an attorney who will see you through the workers' compensation process - all the way to trial. You need Robert A. McLaughlin, APC. Contact us today to schedule your free case review.