Understanding the Process for a Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Mediation Hearing
January 9, 2023
So, you were injured on the job. That’s the worst. Now you have to deal with many issues including lost days and lost wages, medical care and even physical therapy. You may not know when you can return to work and you need to collect your workers’ comp. So far you have taken the necessary steps including:
- Notified your employer/supervisor of the incident and personal injury
- Sought medical treatment right away
- Consulted with an experienced workers’ comp lawyer
You know you have a right to collect workers’ compensation insurance and with your experienced workers’ comp lawyer you have filed a workers’ comp claim. What happens now?
You are at the proverbial “fork in the road.” Down one road, your employer can accept liability for your injury and pay you the workers’ compensation you deserve. This is the route where no litigation process will be required. However, there are times when your employer’s workers’ compensation insurer will deny any obligation to pay workers’ compensation. This is the second road and if this is the case, an experienced workers’ compensation attorney will be the one who guides you through the process of fighting for the compensation you have earned over all the years you have worked. This is the litigation method of dispute resolution and the one that will open the door to the mandatory mediation process required in a Pennsylvania workers’ compensation case.
Is Mediation Mandatory?
Yes. If your employer denies having to pay workers’ compensation benefits then you, with your workers’ comp lawyer, will file a Claim Petition. Next, a PA workers’ compensation judge will be assigned to your case. Before any hearing is held on your claim, the judge assigned will schedule the case for mediation unless the judge concludes workers’ comp mediation will be futile.
PA Workers’ Compensation Mediation is a process where an injured worker and their employer’s insurance company meet with a mediator to try and reach an agreement on the terms of the workers’ compensation case.
What Happens at Mediation?
The mediation is informal and all parties involved are encouraged to consider the facts of the case and if possible reach a resolution. That is the best case scenario in many mediations since a settlement will speed up the process by which the injured worker can receive compensation and it saves the court system time and resources. However, mediation is not a mandate to settle.
The process is also neutral. No one has a “home-field advantage.” The mediator is a Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Judge who has been specially trained in mediation techniques. The mediator does not take sides or make decisions but helps both parties communicate with each other and try to reach an agreement.
You, the injured worker, are not required to mediate on your own. You will have your workers’ comp lawyer with you every step of the way. The following people take part in the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation mediation proceeding:
- You, the injured worker
- Your workers’ compensation attorney
- Your employer
- Your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company attorney
- Insurance adjuster
- Your spouse or partner or another family member
The mediation hearing is completely confidential, which means that anything said during the mediation cannot be used later if the case goes to trial. The idea is in this informal meeting the parties can hear more details about the workers’ comp case from the nature of the injury to medical treatment and medical bills. The lost wages and other expenses incurred by the injured employee will also be evaluated. With the help of an independent mediator, all parties can discuss the disputed issues and possibly resolve disputes and reach a settlement.
The mediation may be an informal process but it does have a structure that will be followed. You can expect that the mediation may start with all the parties in one conference room. This is a way for the mediator to introduce themself and explain the process. It’s possible you will not all meet in one room. It is up to the mediator to decide how he/she wants to handle the process and nothing should be read into the mediator’s choice. In any event, the mediator will gather information about each party’s position and try to identify any areas of agreement or disagreement. The mediating judge will then help guide the parties to see if an acceptable settlement can be reached.
If an agreement is reached, the terms of the settlement will be put into writing and signed by both parties. Once this happens, it is binding on both sides.
If an agreement is not reached, the mediator will provide each party with their evaluation of the case and the mediation process will come to an end. The next step will be for the case to go to trial.
How Do I Prepare for a Workers’ Comp Mediation?
Your workers’ comp attorney will guide you through every step of the mediation process. Their experience in this type of proceeding is how you best protect your interests and rights. You and your attorney will compile all the pertinent records. You should also be familiar with all the relevant facts including:
- Medical treatment
- Total amount of medical expenses
- Total amount of lost wages
While mediation is mandatory, a settlement conference is not. In any case, you should still strive for it to be a successful mediation. That means being respectful to the workers’ comp judge and the other parties in the room as if this were in a court of law. What an acceptable settlement agreement will be is between you and your attorney. You should not feel pressure because you are at a mediation. There are many factors to consider and this is NOT your only chance to resolve your case.
What Happens at the Mediation?
Once again, this mediator process is considered informal. While it is not a trial, it will have some structure. It could feel like a trial to you. Don’t be alarmed. Your lawyer will guide you through the process and let you know what to expect.
Depending on the nature of your claim, the mediation can last a few minutes for many hours. What matters is that your workers’ compensation lawyer is there to protect your rights and your claim and determine if all parties agree to a fair settlement.
After the introductory phase where the mediator meets with all the parties together or in separate rooms, the mediating judge will then most certainly separate the parties into their own room. The mediator will go back and forth between rooms to hear what each side has to say about the case. The lawyers will make their legal arguments about the strength and weakness of the case; the right to compensation on the one hand and why it should be denied on the other. The mediator will also offer their insight and opinion on how they view the case. This guidance will be filtered back to you by your attorney so you can determine the merit of the mediator’s opinion and how you want to proceed.
It may feel, at the time, that you are under pressure to settle your case. You know the insurance company will do anything to prevent paying you. That doesn’t mean this is your last chance to either settle or take the case further. Your attorney will hear your concerns, help balance them against the mediator’s thoughts and opinions and help you come to a conclusion about how you should proceed. In any case, your attorney will have more occasions to discuss your case with the employer’s insurance company attorney and at any point along the way a settlement agreement can be reached.
What Happens If I Settle My Claim at Mediation?
If you and the insurance company are able to reach a settlement agreement, the mediator will then notify your judge. The case will then be set for a workers’ comp settlement hearing.
What Happens If I DON’T Settle My Claim at Mediation?
If no agreement is reached at mediation then your case will move forward to a Workers’ Compensation Hearing. This is a more formal process – like a courtroom trial – where the judge will hear evidence and witnesses from both sides. After that, the judge will issue a written decision. If one party is dissatisfied with that decision, they have the right to appeal.
What Steps Should I Take to Protect My Legal Rights?
You will want an experience workers’ comp attorney representing your case. If you need help with any aspect of your workers’ compensation claim, contact a knowledgeable Philadelphia workers’ compensation lawyer at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. We can help you navigate the workers’ compensation process and obtain all the benefits to which you are entitled. For a free consultation, call us at 888-PITT-LAW or complete our online contact form.