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Workers’ Compensation Judges & Workers’ Compensation Hearings

While an Injured Worker may have a workers’ compensation claim that requires a hearing that before the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, it is rare that an Injured Worker will be required to make an appearance before the Workers’ Compensation Judge who is scheduled to hear the matter. This article is intended to describe how and what occurs when an Injured Worker appears before a WCJ.

I Have A Hearing Before The WCAB And Am Not Sure That I Will Be Seeing The Workers’ Compensation Judge, Is There Anything I Should Be Concerned With?

First, you should be dressed properly.   Per the Policy & Procedure Manual, “the WCJ has the authority to require that all parties appearing in the courtroom be dressed appropriately.”

In my past experience, I have only seen any dress code enforced against male attorneys who were not wearing jackets in the courtroom.  My recommendation for Injured Workers is to not wear any shirts which contain profanity or offensive pictures on it.   Further, I would recommend not wearing clothing that is too revealing or that is torn. A T-Shirt and Jeans should be considered acceptable clothing for a court appearance.

Second, it is advised to not come to the court intoxicated. Smelling of alcohol or marijuana does not bode well for injured workers when appearing before a WCJ.

I Have A Hearing Before The WCAB And I Have Physical Disabilities That Impact My Ability To Appear, Is There Anything That I Should Do?

Yes. As soon as you are aware of hearing and need an accommodation, you should contact the WCAB immediately so that arrangements.   Per the P & P Manual, “[a]ll requests for such accommodations shall be referred to the on-site district office disability accommodation coordinator.“

What Are The Circumstances That I Will See The WCJ?

If an Injured Worker is unrepresented, they will meet with the WCJ with the Information & Assistance Officer.   If the Injured Worker is represented, and it is a conference calendar matter, an Injured Worker will generally not meet the WCJ.   However, if the WCJ has time and the parties represent to the WCJ that the case is close to settling but that the Injured Worker meeting the WCJ may close the deal, then the WCJ might be willing to meet the Injured Worker so that the case can be resolved.

Likewise, if there is a chance of settlement at Trial and the parties believe that a WCJ talking to the Injured Worker might assist, it is likely that such an interaction will occur. At certain WCABs, they will have a WCJ other than the Trial Judge meet with you. Finally, if the matter is tried, the Injured Worker can be present at the Trial during the entire proceedings.  This presence can be for the purposes of participating in the hearing and listening to the proceedings and testimony.   It can also include the Injured Worker testifying as well. Further, there may be some documents that the Injured Worker may be asked to review. Therefore, it is recommended that the Injured Worker bring reading glasses if they are needed.

Can I Speak To The Workers’ Compensation Judge By Myself?

No. There is a prohibition against one party speaking to a WCJ “ex parte”.  This means that the other parties are not present during that conversation.  Further, sending a letter to a WCJ without copying the other parties is also not permitted.   Per the P & P Manual, “[w]hen a WCJ receives an ex parte letter or other document from any party or lien claimant in a case pending before the WCJ, he or she shall serve copies of the letter or document on all other parties to the case with a cover letter explaining that the letter or document was received ex parte in violation of WCAB Rule 10324.”

As a result, if there is a need for you to speak to the WCJ, it will be with all parties present.   Sometimes, a WCJ may agree to meet a party individually. This, however, would be done with the consent of the other parties present.

Also, when speaking before the WCJ, the conversation should be civil.  While an Injured Worker may be frustrated and angry about how their claim has progressed, it is very important to act in a polite and respectful fashion before the WCJ.  Also, it is strongly recommended that you put your phone on vibrate or silence prior to meeting the WCJ.

It should be understood that, per the P & P Manual that, “[e]very court shall have the power to do all of the following: “(1) To preserve and enforce order in its immediate presence. “(2) To enforce order in the proceedings before it… “(3) To provide for the orderly conduct of proceedings before it or its officers.”

If I Am Set For Trial Before A Workers’ Compensation Judge, Will My Case Be Tried That Day?

No. There is no guarantee that your trial will occur on a trial date. Generally, there are multiple cases that are set for Trial before a WCJ on any given day.   As a result, if there are multiple cases that wish to go to Trial, the WCJ needs to determine which case(s) will be tried.   The P & P Manual provides for the prioritization.

The rules provide that “[t]he 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. Where several trials are scheduled to begin at the same time (e.g., 8:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m.), and the parties in two or more of those cases are ready to proceed to trial, the trial judge will determine case priority with due consideration being given to an expeditious determination and the setting of priorities.”

As a result, if there are multiple cases that wish to go to Trial, the WCJ needs to determine which case(s) will be tried.   The P & P Manual provides for the prioritization.

The priorities for deciding which case is heard first is based upon the following:

  1. Cases set for Expedited Hearing;
  2. Cases which are returned to the calendar for cross-examination of the disability evaluation specialist;
  3. 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.);
  4.  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;
  5. Cases that were previously set for trial but did not commence;
  6. Cases in which no benefits have been furnished but the applicant is working; [and]
  7. All other cases.”

What If I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding your workers’ compensation claim, 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 workers’ compensation cases for 26 years. Contact us today for more information.

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