The Long Hearing Process
By Erica Melendez, Associate Attorney
A truly frustrating fact for injured workers is the length of time for the hearing process. A case goes through the hearing process when the injured worker and the insurance carrier cannot agree as to the worker’s right to a certain benefit. Issues include whether the person was even injured at work from the outset of the case, whether the person is entitled to additional medical treatment and whether the person is entitled to a permanent benefit. One worker’s compensation case can go through the hearing process several times for different issues. The hearing process is necessary is so that an Administrative Law Judge can hear evidence and determine the injured worker’s right to a certain benefit based on the Judge’s determination of the credibility of the lay witnesses. If there is a conflict between doctors, (for example, your doctor believes that you need a certain surgery but the insurance company’s doctor says you do not need any further treatment) the Administrative Law Judge decides which doctor’s opinion is more probably correct.
Given the number of cases in the system, the fact that many cases will have to go through the hearing process multiple times, plus the time necessary for parties to prepare the case for hearing, the time for a case to even get to a Judge for the initial hearing is currently approximately 2 ½ months. At the initial hearing before the Judge, the injured worker and any lay witnesses (non-medical) will testify. Next, the Judge determines if medical testimony is necessary and will set “further hearings” for the doctors to testify. The doctors are set to testify by telephone and they are set according to the doctor’s schedule, the Judge’s calendar and the calendar of any attorneys assigned to the case. The number of calendars which have to be coordinated makes setting the further hearings difficult and often means there is a months-long wait for the doctors to testify. Although Judge’s staff work their hardest to get the hearings scheduled quickly and efficiently, the wait can be excruciating for an injured worker waiting for benefits. After the hearings are completed, the Judge has 30 days to make a decision in the case.
The wait for hearings and decisions in industrial cases can be frustrating but it is a necessary part of the process and it’s important to know that the individuals involved in the hearing process try to make the wait as short as possible.