Please be advised that I am writing this article based upon my background and experience as an applicant attorney who has attended a multitude of local Appeals Boards from San Francisco to San Diego.
Each local Appeals Board is unique. If you are represented by counsel, please contact them for advice. My comments are informational only and are not meant to provide legal advice.
If you need more information on your specific workers’ compensation claim, visit the Department of Industrial Relations Website: http://www.dir.ca.gov/dwc/dwc_home_page.htm
This site contains valuable information that can allow you to find out whether your case is on the calendar, advise you of the address of your local WCAB, and provide you with contact information if you are late or unable to make your appearance.
Also, there is a section concerning Disability Accommodation for hearings.
What Happens at a Workers’ Compensation Hearing?
Most workers compensation hearings are held at local WCAB offices. Hearings, for the most part, are informal. At these hearing, disputes can be resolved, cases can be settled, tried, taken off the calendar for further handling, and continued.
If you need some special accommodations as a result of a medical condition, industrial or not, you should contact the WCAB in advance. Please refer to the above-noted link to obtain further information concerning it.
Please be sure to be on time. If you are set for trial and show up late, the Judge could take another case ahead of yours. Further, failure to show up in certain circumstances can result in the dismissal of your case.
If you are running late, it is important to notify the court.
If I Have a Disability, How Can I Be Accommodated?
If you have a disability and need an accommodation or assistance, you must make a request for an accommodation, or an auxiliary aid or service. A reasonable modification or policies or procedures may be possible.
Accommodations may include, but not be limited to, various devices such as computerized translation, a sign language interpreter, documents in large print, in Braille or on computer disk. It can also be on an audio cassette. Any requests should be made as soon as possible. Any requests for listening devices or computerized translation should be made no later than 5 days before the hearing.
What should I bring?
- I recommend that you bring the letter or document that gave you notice to appear. This can help you in case there is a discrepancy.
- If you have been prescribed and expected to use a device or apparatus as part of your claim, I recommend you bring it. For example, if you use a cane or wear a knee brace or wrist brace, I recommend you bring them.
- Hearings can be lengthy. You should bring any medications you take on a regular basis in case you need them. Also, bringing a snack or something to eat would not be a bad idea. Bringing some money is important, too. Some WCABs have paid parking lots. Parking expenses at the WCAB are not reimbursable.
- Bringing a list of your medications and a list of doctors you have seen is something helpful.
- Bring a cell phone as it can be helpful if you need to communicate with your attorney or their office. If you go into a Court Hearing, please be sure to put it on silence or vibrate.
Finally, you need to bring something to kill some time. I recommend that you bring a book or an electronic device. Most boards also have Wi-Fi connections. You can ask the front desk about it.
What should I wear to a hearing?
For the WCABs that I have attended, there has not been one that had required formal clothing for injured workers. Some Boards require attorneys to wear coats and ties. The Policy & Procedure manual of the WCAB provide the WCJ the authority to require that all parties appearing in the courtroom dress appropriately.
I recommend casual clothing that is comfortable. It is important that you do not wear anything that could possibly raise questions. For example, don’t wear any clothing that could be deemed offensive or informative. For example, a hat with a marijuana leaf on it – if you go to trial – could lead to questions about drug use.
Wearing a shirt from a new job could lead to questioning about new employment.
Generally, if you are a Police Officer, Deputy or Firefighter, and are on duty/workday, coming in uniform is proper.
What should I do first?
First, you should check in. There are sign-in sheets that are usually posted on a wall or are placed near the front desk on a clipboard.
If your name is there, you should circle your name, have a seat, and wait for your attorney.
If you are not on the list, you should go to the front desk and make an inquiry. If you do not have an attorney, advise the front desk and they should direct you to the Information and Assistance Officer.
How long are the hearings? What happens?
For most hearings, you are to remain in the waiting room. You should be patient. Matters sometimes take a while to be resolved. There can be long lines to meet the Judge. There will be Defense Attorneys who have difficulty reaching their adjusters. If you think there is a problem, do not hesitate to contact your attorney’s office to find out what is going on.
Workers comp hearings are scheduled for the morning, afternoon, or all day. Most morning hearings resolve before noon. Sometimes, matters can be held over to the afternoon.
Afternoon hearings usually end before 4:30pm and will definitely end when the offices are closed. Expedited Hearings can be in the morning or the afternoon.
Trials can last all day long.
At most conferences, the attorneys meet in the courtroom and discuss the matter. The parties usually try to resolve the issues. If they are not able to do so, they prepare paperwork to present to the WCAB to set the matter for a hearing. All hearings must be disposed of by the Judge.
Many times, your case can be settled at the hearing and the Judge can approve your settlement. Generally, monies from the settlement will begin to be paid within 30 days from the hearing.
There are a number of types of hearings that can come before the WCAB. There are Trials, Lien Trials, Mandatory Settlement Conferences, Status Conferences, Lien Conferences, Expedited Hearing and AOE/COE Priority Conferences. For some of these hearings, your attendance is not required. Check with your attorney concerning the need for you to appear.
What is a Workers’ Compensation Trial like?
Trials at the WCAB are informal. It is an administrative hearing and there is no jury. At a trial, there will be a Judge wearing a black robe a Court Reporter. The attorneys on your case will be present.
It is possible that an employer representative may be present as well. Sometimes, you will see insurance company witnesses in the waiting room.
During the trial, you are allowed to be present. You may be called to testify. This includes being cross-examined by the defendant. The Judge may ask questions as well. Witnesses can be called and videotape may be shown.
If I am set for Trial, does that mean my Case will be Tried that day?
No. It is very common on Trial Calendar that a Workers’ Compensation Judge will have a multitude of matters to be heard. The Trial Calendar can consist of Expedited Hearings, Regular Trials, Lien Trials, Continued Testimony Trials, Cross-Examination of Disability Evaluation Specialists, and Trials which were returned to the Trial Judge from Reconsideration for further proceedings.
Per the Policy and Procedure Manual, there is a priority upon which matters will be tried. Per the Policy and Procedures, the WCJ conducting a trial should proceed at the time scheduled, allowing a minimal amount of time for settlement negotiations. The parties should be encouraged to appear earlier than the scheduled time to conduct negotiations. Therefore, if your matter is set for Trial, you should expect your attorney or the opposing counsel, if you are in pro per, they engage in some settlement negotiations prior to proceeding to trial.
Further, if you cannot resolve your case, the Workers’ Compensation Judge will give due consideration being given to an expeditious determination and take cases subject to the following priority level:
- Cases set for Expedited Hearing;
- Cases which are returned to the calendar for cross-examination of the disability evaluation specialist;
- Continued cases in which testimony has been received (The judges are encouraged to have these cases set on the first available opening in their calendar with notice waived.);
- Cases in which the applicant is not working and is receiving no benefits and/or in which the applicant or any witnesses have traveled from out of state or a significant distance within the state to appear;
- Cases that were previously set for trial but did not commence;
- Cases in which no benefits have been furnished but the applicant is working; and
- All other cases.
Law Offices of Edward J. Singer
At the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, A Professional Law Corporation, we represent our clients with their workers’ compensation claims.
With more than 23 years of expertise in defending workers’ rights, we are here to assist with any questions a person in California who receives workers’ compensation may have.
We welcome anyone who needs assistance to contact us today concerning any workers’ comp questions or issues.
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