Workers’ Compensation Attorneys can play a vital role in Workers’ Compensation Trials. A Workers’ Compensation Attorney’s abilities can impact on an Injured Worker’s recovery of benefits.
This article will discuss the role of Workers’ Compensation Attorneys in the Trial Process and how they assist Injured Workers in proving up their right to benefits.
Who Are Workers’ Compensation Attorneys?
Technically, there are no “Workers’ Compensation Attorneys.” Attorneys who practice workers’ compensation are licensed in the State of California to practice law. This means that they are eligible to practice any area of law within the State. Workers’ Compensation Attorneys receive the label as being a “Workers’ Compensation Attorney” based upon the fact that a significant part of their practice relates to the handling of workers’ compensations cases.
Workers’ Compensation Attorneys craft their trial skills in many ways. There are various organizations that provide training and education. There is a certified specialist program from the State Bar, there is the Workers’ Compensation Section of the California Lawyers Association (CLA) which provides educational programs, and there is California Applicant Attorneys Association (CAAA) which provides educational programs. Also, the Division of Workers’ Compensation from the Department of Industrial Relations that also provides educational programming. Many attorneys participate in the many different organizations to sharpen their skills.
Finally, many Workers’ Compensations Attorneys have “decades” of experience in representing injured workers and doing workers’ compensation trials. You will find many attorneys who have participated in over 100 trials.
The “Art of the Trial”
A Workers’ Compensation Trial can be viewed as a form of “art.” A well-done Trial is a wonderful thing to observe. When every participant “has their game on,” it is sheer entertainment. It is akin to a game of chess played with law, emotions, truth, lies, cunning, and actual stakes. The chess pieces at the trial include the Judge, the Court Reporter, the Attorneys, and the Witnesses.
The Workers’ Compensation Community has quite a number of skilled and experienced attorneys who are up to the challenge. There have been many outstanding trials. There have been times that I have taken the time out of my busy schedule to sit and observe other parties trials for both educational and entertainment purposes.
In those moments of a well-tried case, you feel that justice is taking place. The parties have been given a fair opportunity to present their case. These moments occur when Judge manages the courtroom with their demeanor and actions. The Judge plays a vital role in maintaining decorum and keeping the trial progressing. At the end of a good trial, the Injured Worker should have had the ample opportunity to be heard in a respectful manner.
In sum, the Constitutional Mandate of “Substantial Justice” will have been achieved.
As Far as Trial, What Skills Does an Attorney Need?
The answer to this question must be broken up into components. Pre-Trial, Trial, and Post-Trial.
Trial: I will first approach this question with respect to the Trial date itself. When I was an Associate Attorney, at a prior law office, on a rare occasion, I assigned to try a case at the last moment. In that circumstance, it was all about Trial Skills in handling the matter. There was no opportunity for Pre-Trial preparation.
Trial Skills include:
- Proper understanding of WCAB Policy and Procedures
- Proper reviewing of the file
- Proper understanding of the issues
- Proper interaction with the Injured Worker and Witnesses to ascertain testimony
- The ability to establish a foundation for the issues and evidence and present them so that they are reflected in the record
With all those in mind, the Workers’ Compensation Attorney should be able to present the case, establish all of the facts and get admitted into evidence all pertinent exhibits necessary to “prove up the case.” This can include placing the Injured Worker and possibly some other witnesses on the stand to testify to “prove up the issues.” Also, they must be able to effectively cross-examine any defense witnesses.
Are Workers’ Compensation Trials Different than Civil Trials? Does It Matter?
Yes. Workers’ Compensation cases are tried at the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board before a Workers’ Compensation Judge. Unlike Civil Cases, there is no jury. The proceeding is considered as Administrative Law.
In Workers’ Compensation, the Judge is the “trier-of-fact” rather than a jury. Therefore, the Trial Lawyer dramatics that may be employed in a civil trial may be unwarranted. Sometimes, the Workers’ Compensation Judge, for any given trial, channels the famous line from the fictional character from the TV Show “Dragnet.” As Joe Friday, the Detective for the LAPD, used to saw, “just the facts, ma’am.” Many times, Judges want to avoid trial drama and simply want “the facts.”
What are Workers’ Compensation Attorney’s Pre-Trial Activities?
Pre-Trial Activities involve framing of the legal issues of import for the case and establishing the facts and expert opinion to support the various positions. In workers’ compensation, the expert opinion is generally the employment of a medical expert such as a physician. This expert opinion is presented via medical reporting and deposition. In essence, prior to Trial, the Workers’ Compensation Attorney has all already established all the facts and opinions to support a favorable award. The trial may essentially be whether “the facts” either exist or are truthful in nature. By exist, for example, it could be as simple as the Applicant establishing the fact that they fell off of a ladder. By truthful, it is a situation in which where the Judge may have to decide between the testimony of the Injured Worker versus the testimony of an Employer Witness.
What are Workers’ Compensation Attorneys’ Post-Trial Activities?
Many times, there are Post-Trial activities. There are times at which the Workers’ Compensation Judge may request briefing of the issues from the parties. Therefore, a quality Workers’ Compensation Attorney will have writing skills as well as trial skills. Writing skills involve legal knowledge combined with the ability to express arguments and contentions.
Additionally, there may be appeals relating to an underlying Trial Decision from the Workers’ Compensation Judge. Therefore, a Workers’ Compensation Attorney’s ability to prepare appeals such as Petitions for Reconsideration is also of import. Further, the ability to prepare opposition briefing to a Defendant’s Petition for Reconsideration is required as well.
What If I Need Legal Advice?
If you would like a “free” consultation concerning any workers’ compensation case, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 28 years. for more information.