Have you ever watched a law show on television? There’s a courtroom trial with witnesses. The lawyers ask questions, and the judge makes rulings. It’s dramatic, even from the comfort of your own home. If you’re an injured worker with a workers’ compensation case, you may find yourself in a hearing of your own if your employer’s insurance carrier refuses to pay. You’re not alone. Such cases are heard every day in Philadelphia for workers injured on the job. And unlike the over-dramatic TV trial, there is a hearing process where you get to make your case and tell your side of the story. With an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer at your side, you can be certain that your rights will be protected.
How Does PA Workers’ Comp Law Work?
If you have been injured at work in Philadelphia, you may be entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits. Pennsylvania law requires employers to maintain Workers’ Compensation Insurance. These workers’ comp benefits are designed to ensure injured workers are financially compensated for their medical bills and related economic losses for an on-the-job injury. An injured worker can file a workers’ compensation claim and recover benefits which can include payments for medical expenses and income replacement if they are unable to work. In order to receive these benefits, you must first file a claim with the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Board.
An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer can discuss with an injured worker their rights; workers’ comp law; how a claim is filed; what to expect from the insurance company’s attorney; the hearing process; and how to prepare. Preparation is the key to success in any legal case including a workers’ compensation claim petition.
Why Would I Need a Workers’ Compensation Hearing?
Typically, Workers’ comp cases often end in a settlement between the employee and the workers’ compensation insurance company. However, when the parties can’t resolve their dispute, a hearing might be necessary.
How Do I Prepare For a Workers’ Compensation Hearing?
You and your attorney will have ample time before a hearing to prepare for your case. This will involve reviewing the facts, your testimony, and the medical records. Making sure you have provided your attorney with all the records is essential. Your attorney will need to know the names of witnesses who saw your accident so they may be called to testify.
What Happens at a Workers’ Comp Hearing?
At a workers’ compensation hearing, both sides have the opportunity to present evidence and witnesses. A workers’ comp hearing has some things in common with a trial—but it doesn’t take place in a courtroom, there’s no jury, and different rules apply. Like a civil trial, workers’ compensation hearings require all parties to be present before a judge, and it involves introducing evidence in the form of documents and witness testimony. The lawyers will also make legal arguments to the judge.
You and your lawyer need to attend the workers’ comp hearing, as does the employer’s insurance company and their lawyer, and, of course, the workers’ compensation judge. Other people may also be there, including a court reporter, witnesses who will testify, a representative from your employer, and an insurance company representative.
Most workers’ comp hearings take a few hours. The more complicated cases may take a few days.
What Kind of Evidence is Presented at the Workers’ Compensation Hearing?
The type of evidence presented at a workers’ compensation hearing will vary depending on the specific facts of your case. Evidence typically includes medical records, witness testimony, and expert opinions.
At the hearing, you and the insurance company will give the judge documents to review. These may include:
- medical records
- unpaid medical bills
- evidence of your lost wages (pay stubs from just before your injury)
- personnel and other employment records
- depositions and reports by expert witnesses (a report from your treating doctor),
- documents showing your job search if that’s relevant to your case.
There will also be live testimony given at the trial. You will usually testify at the hearing. Typically, your testimony will include:
- Your injury: You should expect questions on how the injury occurred, where it occurred, whether there were any witnesses, to who did you report the injury to, and what were your symptoms when the injury occurred.
- Your current symptoms: You should expect questions on whether your symptoms have improved since the injury, stayed the same, or worsened. You should expect questions on whether the medical treatment you’ve had has been helpful.
- Your employment history: You should expect questions regarding your normal job duties, training, and education, your wage rate, hours worked, length of employment, and other employment-related issues as well as your attempts to return to work.
- Your medical history: You should expect to testify about not just the medical history relevant to the work injury, but prior medical history and medical providers. Your symptoms and the limitations in what you can do as a result of the injury. You should expect questions about prior work injuries, prior accidents, and whether you had any symptoms prior to the work injury.
Before you testify, the judge will put you under oath to tell the truth. Your workers’ comp lawyer will then ask you a series of questions. The insurance company’s lawyer will also have the right to ask you questions and it’s even possible the judge will have some for you as well.
In addition to your testimony, other witnesses will be called to testify such as co-workers or others who witnessed your accident, the insurance company’s adjuster, and other experts. Doctors typically give their testimony at a deposition before the hearing.
When Will the Judge Make a Decision on My Case?
At the end of the hearing, the case is submitted for a decision. The workers’ compensation judge rules and decides the case based on the evidence presented and the application of Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation law. The judge will issue a written decision on your case within 30 to 90 days.
Can I Appeal the Judge’s Decision?
If you disagree with the judge’s decision, you have the right to file an appeal. Appeals must be filed within 20 days of the judge’s decision. The appeal process is one that your attorney will handle and advise you on based on the facts of your case. The appeals process has its own rules and filing deadlines vary.
Do I Need a Workers’ Comp Attorney?
Yes. First and foremost, once you have retained a lawyer you have formed an attorney-client relationship. This means that all communications are private and privileged. With a confidential relationship, you will be able to discuss your case openly and the attorney can evaluate your work-related accident and workers comp case and form a game plan. Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation law is complex and can be very confusing for someone who is unfamiliar with the workers’ comp laws.
Second, if your case cannot be settled and must have a hearing, you will want an attorney representing you. The hearing process is a legal one and complicated claims require a knowledgeable attorney to protect your rights. There are rules of evidence, exhibits to present, examination and cross-examination of witnesses, and arguments to be made to the judge. The training and skills of a lawyer are recommended.
If you must have a workers’ compensation hearing, an attorney will prepare the case:
- Identify all the evidence that needs to be submitted to the judge.
- Prepare yourself before the hearing so you know what to expect.
- Maintain all the paperwork and make sure all deadlines are met.
- Handle your employer or insurance company so you don’t have to.
- Collect all the medical reports and records.
- Talk to witnesses and physicians in order to build the strongest case possible
In addition, a workers’ comp lawyer can represent you in all of the proceedings that take place before you ever get to your hearing. For example, a workers’ comp lawyer can challenge any mistakes in your IME report, negotiate for you at your settlement conference, and represent you at your pretrial hearing.
Take advantage of the free consultation workers’ compensation attorneys offer. This will ensure that you are retaining an experienced and knowledgeable workers comp lawyer and law firm.
To learn more about your workers’ compensation benefits, rights, and the workers’ compensation hearing, call for a FREE consultation by dialing (888)-PITT-LAW or (877) 748-8529, or by sending us a message through our easy-to-use contact us box available here.