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How Workers’ Comp Hearings Work and Why You’ve Got to Prepare to Win Them—or You’ll Lose

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I’ve written before on the overall process involved in a workers’ comp hearing, from requesting it to getting the order. Now let’s take a deeper dive on the hearing itself. As you will soon see, your lawyer needs to be well prepared to win your case because you can bet the defense will attack it at every turn.

Here’s how most hearings work.

Pre-Hearing Conference

This is a private meeting between the commissioner hearing the case and the attorneys for both sides. It’s a discussion of the issues involved in the case so the commissioner has a preview of the evidence that’ll be presented. Sometimes these discussions yield some helpful guidance from the commissioner that can help settle the case. If not, the hearing starts.

The Hearing Begins: Position Statements

The parties enter the hearing room and sit with their lawyers. The hearing starts with “position statements.” These are like opening statements in jury trials, where both sides present their arguments on the issues in the case. It’s at this point your lawyer can begin making headway to get the commissioner to rule in your favor, by artfully predicting how the evidence supports your case. 

The lawyers also state the issues both sides agree on, so everyone’s clear on the precise issues they’re fighting about.

After that, evidence starts coming in.

Exhibits Are Given to the Commissioner

Some of the most important evidence comes in the form of documents or other exhibits given to the commissioner as a packet. These must be carefully organized according to the commissioner’s instructions. They are called “APAs,” which is the abbreviation for the law governing them, the Administrative Procedures Act.

  • It’s impossible to overlook how vital this evidence is. It’s got to be done right, or you lose.
  • The medical evidence must conform to legal requirements. If the doctor’s records don’t properly connect your injuries to you getting hurt at work, you lose, even if your case is totally legitimate. A serious workers’ comp injury case needs an experienced lawyer to make sure you don’t lose everything on a technicality.

The next step revolves largely around you.

Testimony

Since you, the hurt worker, must prove your case, you and your lawyer go first. Often, you’re the only witness, as doctors “testify” through their records and the questionnaires we asked them to fill out to help your case. Sometimes, the doctor gives a “deposition,” which is out-of-court sworn testimony.

A typical case requires you to testify about things like:

  • Your employment history.
  • The job you did when you got hurt.
  • How you got hurt.
  • How you notified your employer you got hurt.
  • A summary of your medical treatment.
  • Your diagnosis in your own words.
  • Most importantly, how your on-the-job injury has made things in your life and at work harder or impossible. This is crucial because it helps the commissioner decide whether you need continued medical treatment. It also helps the commissioner determine how much permanent disability compensation you should get—this is the cash part of your settlement.

Next, the defense cross-examines you. You may be asked about prior statements you made in medical records or your deposition. If you’re our client, you’ll be ready. We discuss your testimony well before the hearing to make sure you’re prepared to do it.

Then, the defense presents their witnesses, if any, and we cross-examine them.

The Hearing Closes

After all the testimony gets taken, the commissioner makes sure she has all the evidence. Then the hard part begins for you—we leave and await a decision. Sometimes, it can take months, but we understand: commissioners have lots of cases across the state, and we want them to take care to get yours right.

Don’t Leave Wondering What Just Happened

If you’ve got to fight your case all the way through a hearing, it’s stressful and burdensome enough. But if you don’t have a skilled attorney on your side, you’ll likely walk out of the hearing dazed and confused, wondering what just happened and fearing for your future.

If you’ve been seriously hurt at work, don’t just let your hearing happen to you—the defense will likely have a skilled lawyer of their own, paid to steamroll over you. Protect yourself, because no one else will, no matter how nice people at work or with the insurance company may seem, and no matter how hard it is to stand up to an employer who’s been good to you so far. Sadly, I’ve seen all too often where people trust an insurance company to do the right thing because they’re afraid people at their job will get mad at them. That’s leaving your health and financial well-being to chance. Don’t let that be you.

If you’ve got questions or concerns about your workers’ comp case, feel free to fill out our Get Help Now form right on our website to get answers from an experienced workers’ comp attorney.

 

Rob Usry
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Rob is a South Carolina personal injury and criminal defense lawyer.
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