When you are injured at work, you will probably have a lot of concerns and questions. An experienced workers’ compensation lawyer can help. Usually, most of the legal work can be done without you appearing at a hearing. But there are times when your lawyer will tell you a hearing is needed. If you are required to attend a hearing, here are three easy tips to make it a successful hearing.
Why would I need to request a hearing?
There are several reasons a hearing might be necessary during a workers’ compensation case.
- Denied claims – This is one of the most common reasons workers need to attend a court hearing. If you disagree with the insurer’s denial of your claim, you have the right to request a reconsideration hearing with the ALJ. This hearing gives you the opportunity to present additional facts that support your case and ask the Board to reverse the denial.
- Catastrophic determinations – If you believe your injury was catastrophic in nature, you will need to request a hearing to obtain an official designation as catastrophic. This is important because if the insurer labels your case catastrophic, you will potentially qualify for both lifetime income and medical benefits. At the hearing, the ALJ will review your medical evidence and make a determination.
- Unfair terms – You might also have to request a hearing if the insurer made decisions about your case that you do not agree with. Examples include prematurely ceased benefits, unfair impairment ratings, and disagreements about wages and benefit amounts.
- Change of condition – Lastly, if you have a significant change in your condition that would change your benefits, you might need to request a court hearing to address it. For instance, if you went back to work on light duty but then your condition worsened, you will likely need a hearing to prove that your employer needs to reinstate your benefits.
What can I expect during the court hearing?
During the court hearing, the ALJ will hear both sides of the story, review and discern the evidence, and reach a decision at the conclusion of the hearing. The parties generally present at the hearing are the ALJ, the claimant, the employer/insurer representative, and the attorneys for both the claimant and the employer/insurer.
This is the time to present any new evidence that you have compiled to the ALJ. Medical evidence will be a huge part of your case. Some of the information you and your attorney will likely compile include:
- Second opinions
- New testimonies from medical experts
- Prior medical records
- Proof of treatments
It is important to be very well prepared prior to your hearing and gather as much convincing evidence as possible. Before the hearing, each party will have an opportunity to request facts and information from the other party. This is the process of discovery. There are a lot of pieces of evidence that are discoverable, such as employee files, depositions, investigation reports, and in some cases, surveillance photos and videos. Your lawyer can assist with this process.
You might also be required to provide a deposition. During the deposition, the other party’s attorney will ask you a series of general questions about your case, which you are required to answer under oath. A stenographer will transcribe everything at the deposition, which you can use as evidence at the court hearing. It can be a little unnerving to depose, but your lawyer can help you prepare.
Who Participates In A Workers Compensation Hearing?
With some exceptions, the participants at a workers’ compensation hearing in Georgia will include:
- An administrative jaw judge;
- The injured worker and his or her attorney; and
- A representative from the Employer and/or its workers’ compensation insurance company and their attorney.
In addition, one or both parties is likely to bring witnesses to testify on their behalf. Medical experts are permitted to testify at workers’ compensation hearings; however, in most workers’ compensation cases in Georgia, the parties simply submit expert medical opinions into evidence in the form of medical records.
One participant (or group of participants) that you won’t see at a Georgia workers’ compensation hearing is a jury. In Georgia, the administrative law judge makes both findings of fact and rulings of law.
Tip #1: Gather Your Paperwork
Although your attorney will probably have almost everything you need, you should always keep copies of every document relevant to your case. Keep them organized so you can quickly find what you need. In the days leading up to the hearing, go back and review the claims and fact statements. Make sure you understand your theory of the case and any key issues that could prevent you from getting your desired outcome. If you have any questions, ask your attorney to explain in more detail so that you are ready to answer questions if asked.
Tip #2: Contact Your Lawyer a Few Days Before the Hearing
If you have not already done so, speak with your attorney at least a day or two before the hearing to make sure it is still scheduled and to ensure you know what you should do at the hearing. The hearing is similar to a trial, except there is no jury and the rules are more informal. This means the judge (Administrative Law Judge or “ALJ”) is allowed to ask you questions directly and has wide latitude when doing so. Since you will be giving testimony and explaining your side of the case, you want to make sure you are prepared.
Tip #3: Dress for Success
Your hearing will not be held in a traditional courthouse. Instead, you will be held in a government building in Savannah. There, the ALJ will control the progress and outcome. There will be an attorney for the defense, who will also have an opportunity to question you. Although the hearing is less formal in terms of the rules and procedures, you should not dress informally.
On the contrary, men should wear a suit and tie if possible. It is also best to consider clean, conservative grooming. Women should wear formal attire, nothing revealing and limited jewelry. Many lawyers advise their clients before important trials and hearings to look at the way attorneys and other staff at the law office dress and attempt to model their attire to match. This is a fairly safe option to ensure you present yourself well. The Huffington Post has a great article on courtroom attire that you can view here.
Ultimately, remember that your goal is to show the ALJ that you are a real person who was seriously injured. Yet, you also want to be taken seriously. You want the ALJ to see you as a valuable employee who is worth every penny you are seeking. If you present yourself too casually or inappropriately, you risk making a bad impression. If there is a question about how to present yourself, ask your attorney. If you do not have an attorney for your hearing, contact the Georgia workers’ compensation attorneys at Bader Scott Injury Lawyers right away to protect your rights.