Depending on how far along you are with your workers’ compensation case in California, you may be directed to attend a mandatory settlement conference, a hearing before a worker’s compensation judge, or an appeal.
- Mandatory Settlement Conference: This is typically the first “hearing” in the workers’ compensation process. Although it is possible to be deposed and have other conferences, the mandatory settlement conference essentially paves the way for the rest of the case. A mandatory settlement conference should be scheduled after a petition called a “Declaration of Readiness to Proceed” is filed. Typically, it will happen between 10 and 60 days after a petition is filed.
- Hearing: Typically referred to as a “trial,” this hearing is where disability status and all-around compensation will be resolved. This hearing is comparable to a trial because witnesses may be called, and both attorneys put forth a case, but it differs from a standard trial in many ways; evidentiary rules are slightly relaxed, and the whole proceeding is before a judge and not a jury. The process is also called making an appearance before an “Appeals Board,” rather than a trial.
- Appeal: If a party is dissatisfied with the Appeals’ decision, they can appeal. Only the Courts of Appeal and Supreme Court have the authority and jurisdiction to overturn the conclusion of the Appeals Board.
What Are Some Benefits Of Workers Compensation?
Workers’ compensation benefits generally fall into medical benefits and indemnity benefits for lost wages (such as disability pay or vocational rehabilitation). Workers’ compensation regulations in most states offer the following types of benefits to injured employees:
The injured party has the privilege of all reasonable necessary treatment to cure or relieve the effects of the injury. This includes medical statements, medications, and even round trip mileage to the clinic. Under some plans, a patient might have to use the company physician, but usually only for a maximum of 30 days. After that time, a patient may choose a different physician but may have to offer a written request.
If the injured party is pushed to take time away from work due to medical reasons related to the injury, they may be qualified for temporary disability payments. These payments deliver payment for lost wages. There are clear limits to the pay rate, but it normally comes to about two-thirds of the worker’s average weekly gross income. Payments require a physician to confirm the inability to work and ensue every two weeks.
If workers can’t totally recover from an injury, they could be permitted a monetary award for their permanent disability. Permanent disability means that the injured party has lost some power to compete in the labor market of uninjured employees. The amount and rate at which permanent disability is paid hinge on age, employment, wages at the time of injury, and how significant a burden the injury places on one’s activities.
If an injury stops you from returning to your job, help in getting another job (vocational rehabilitation) may be included in workers’ compensation benefits. A partial income is distributed during vocational rehabilitation, comparable to temporary disability. The vocational rehabilitation benefit usually has a maximum monetary limit and may be superseded by an offer of different work from the employer.
What Is a Settlement Conference?
In a personal injury claim, a settlement conference is a formal arrangement between the parties in a lawsuit in which they try to settle their legal quarrel without continuing trial. The parties will try to address the plaintiff’s losses, usually agreeing upon a specified amount that the defendant will be paying to the plaintiff. In some circumstances, the parties may agree on other means of compensation or remedies, such as an injunction.
Settlements often let the parties avoid additional costs and time constraints associated with a full trial. Yet, the parties need to be able to collaborate and come to an agreement for settlement conferences to be productive.
What Is Discussed during a Settlement Conference?
In a settlement conference, the parties generally go over the settlement terms. These may include:
- The full amount that the defendant owes the plaintiff (there may often be discrepancies between the initial settlement offer and the definitive amount after negotiations)
- Whether the settlement will be in a lump sum or periodic payments
- How the payments are to be made/method of payment
- Consequences for a breach of the settlement terms
The parties are usually represented by their attorneys during the process. Once the conference or conferences are completed, the parties may formalize their conclusions into a settlement agreement. This agreement can be presented to the judge and converted into a court order, enforceable under state regulations.
What If I Have a Dispute Over an Injury Settlement?
Disagreements over injury settlements can often materialize since there are many different aspects to a settlement agreement. Most conflicts can be settled during the conference as the parties discuss the details. Yet, if the conflict arises after the court has issued a settlement order, it may require more legal proceedings. An example of this is when the defendant fails to pay the monthly amounts required to pay. The court may need to follow up and administer an injunction requiring the defendant to keep up with payments.
It should be mentioned that some settlements are entered into willingly by the parties with little friction. Yet, the court requires some settlement conferences as a mandatory step in the legal proceedings; this is often standard for partial settlements. Mandatory settlements often involve disputes as the parties may not have anticipated a settlement.
What Happens When I Return To Work?
If the worker returns to work and obtains wages equal to or greater than before the injury, all workers’ compensation benefits will likely be stopped. If, however, the worker is still undergoing a wage loss due to their injury, they may continue to obtain benefits. Two examples of benefits that may be available are “temporary partial” and “temporary total.”
Temporary partial disability benefits are payable to an employee who has undergone a work injury and is temporarily disabled but can still earn some wages despite a temporary disability. These benefits are typically payable based on a percentage difference between the worker’s pre-and post-injury earnings.
Temporary total disability benefits are normally payable to injured workers who are temporarily prohibited from working in any capacity due to the work injury. These benefits are, in some jurisdictions, payable based upon a percentage of the pre-injury wages of the injured worker.
When Is a Worker’s Compensation Hearing Required?
In every worker’s compensation case, a hearing will typically happen. Nevertheless, whether one is “required” will hinge on several elements, such as the kind of injury and what matters are disputed.
Until recently, California required the Administrative Director of the Division of Workers’ Compensation to establish a priority conference calendar for cases where an attorney represents the employee and the disputed matters are employment or injury. Today, cases where the worker is employed by an illegally uninsured employer also obtain priority status.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you were injured on the job, you should consider hiring a California workers’ compensation lawyer immediately. The process is lengthy and complex, and the insurance companies are undoubtedly better situated to fight these claims than you are. A California lawyer can ensure everything is done fairly and ensure your rights are protected.