If you disagree with your settlement terms, a medical decision, rehabilitation issues, or other aspects of your workers’ compensation case, one option for resolving the differences of opinion is through mediation.
Here are a few things you might want to know about workers’ compensation mediation in Georgia.
Issues You Can Mediate With the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation
The Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation (SBWC) offers mediation as an alternative dispute resolution option in these situations:
- All of the involved parties to the dispute can agree to let the SBWC assist with using mediation to try to resolve the contested issues and try to settle the claim.
- In the situation of a compensable medical condition, the parties can mediate concerns like the payment of medical treatment bills or changing the health care provider.
- The parties are allowed to use mediation when they cannot agree on the suspension of benefits or have issues about suitable light-duty employment.
- In compensable cases identified as catastrophic, disputes about rehabilitation can be mediated.
- If there is a disagreement about the reasonable value of attorney services rendered or an attorney fee lien in a case after settlement, the appropriate parties can mediate the dispute.
- When the parties do not agree on how to determine the correct average weekly wage, that issue can go through mediation. For example, the SBWC says that a person with a job-related injury can receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage up to $675 a week, but there might be a dispute about the individual’s average weekly wage.
The SBWC provides the mediator and the location for the mediation. There are 17 mediation sites in Georgia. The Board tries to select the most convenient location for the participants.
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A Quick Overview of How Mediation Works
If you elect to mediate your contested issues, you will have an opportunity to try to reach an agreement with the other side. The mediator serves as a facilitator, not as a judge. The mediator is a neutral third party who helps the two sides communicate with each other. The parties try to reach common ground on as many of the disputed issues as possible.
At all times during the mediation process, the parties retain control of the dispute. The mediator does not decide who is “right” or who wins. One of the advantages of mediation as a form of dispute resolution is that the parties often learn skills that help them resolve or even avoid conflict with each other in the future. Often, disputes have some misunderstanding or miscommunication at their base.
Who Can Be a Mediator in an SBWC Mediation
As we stated, a mediator is a neutral third party, but the mediator is not a random stranger plucked off of the street. Either an SBWC staff attorney or an administrative law judge (ALJ) will serve as the mediator because they have experience in Georgia workers’ compensation law and are certified mediators.
When an ALJ serves as a mediator, the ALJ will not make the decision about the outcome of your dispute. You still have control in your mediation whether the person who serves as the mediator is an ALJ or staff attorney. Also, if your case does not settle through mediation and your dispute goes to court, that ALJ will not be allowed to serve as the hearing judge in court. A different ALJ will get assigned.
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How Long Do You Have to Wait for Mediation
Usually, the mediation begins within 30 days of a party requesting the process. If there is sufficient justification, an emergency mediation can be possible.
How to Request an SBWC Mediation
You need to file the correct form with the SBWC to request mediation. If you want to try to settle the entire claim and all the parties agree to use mediation to try to achieve this outcome, you will use one type of form. For anything else, like a specific issue discussed in the list of issues above, you would use a different request form.
Can You Get Forced to Mediate a Workers’ Compensation Dispute in Georgia?
The SBWC can order a claimant to appear for mediation. The Board cannot force you to reach an agreement or give up the right to a hearing if the mediation does not result in an agreement. You do have to show up and act in good faith.
Also, all the necessary parties must appear at a mediation. For example, your employer must send a representative to attend a mediation that involves questions of suitable employment. The insurance company must send a representative who has full authority to settle the disputed issues.
What Happens During an SBWC Mediation
Mediation is much less formal than a courtroom hearing or trial. Everyone who participates in the mediation has the right to be a part of the conversation. There will be some ground rules about acceptable behavior during the mediation. The gist of these rules is that everyone is to treat every participant with respect and courtesy.
The mediator might ask questions to clarify something a party said or to help the participant communicate in a way that the other parties can understand. The parties will talk about several possible solutions to the disagreement. The mediator cannot force anyone to agree to the terms proposed by the other participants.
Contact Bader Scott Injury Lawyers for Help With Workers’ Compensation
Bader Scott Injury Lawyers can help you with your Georgia workers’ compensation claim. Contact us today for a free case review.