Workers’ Compensation Is Like A Bad Marriage

I had a mediation with a Work Comp Judge in Philadelphia this morning. In speaking with my client about some of the benefits of settlement, the Judge made a great analogy. He said that unlike other areas of the law- such as personal injury- workers’ compensation keeps hanging around until the case is settled. In personal injury cases and many other areas of law, something happens in a defined moment and there is an arbitration or a trial if the case doesn’t resolve. And then it’s over. But in Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation cases, the claim can have a long life.  It is a dynamic animal depending on the injured worker’s disability status, availability of work, and many other issues.  While some cases may be over in a matter of weeks or months, many others stay alive for years, and sometimes decades. And the relationship isn’t very friendly in many cases- with fighting over 1) what diagnoses are work related, 2) what restrictions are appropriate, 3) what medical treatment is reasonable and necessary, 4) whether a job offer was really within the injured workers’ restrictions, or 5) disputes regarding the payment of medical bills. These are just some examples. But the point is that the tension and stress can hang over an employee’s head for long periods of time until a resolution is accomplished.  (resolution often means a lump sum payout in exchange for no future wage or medical benefits) And, the relationship is quite antagonistic at times- with the insurer not wanting to spend money and the injured worker wanting the benefits he feels he deserves. In this way, the case can feel like a “bad marriage”.  It is enough just trying to grapple with the physical limitations introduced to an injured worker, to then have to deal with the emotional exhaustion from incessantly clashing with the employer or insurer.

Applying the analogy to the case at hand, the Workers’ Comp Judge was trying to explain that there is a real benefit, not just financially, but psychologically, to ending a case with a settlement. There is no more worrying about how long the checks will keep coming, or if a medical bill will get paid, or anxiety about video surveillance or independent medical examinations. It gives the injured worker control- and finality. That certainly cannot be measured in cash.

Of course, any Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation settlement must be satisfactory to the injured worker from a numbers perspective. While not perfectly concrete, that analysis lends itself to more objective and mathematical, if you will, considerations- depending on the injured worker’s age, the comp rate and so on.

I rarely have clients come back to me months or years after a settlement and express regret about settling their case. It really helps re-focus their attention on positive things and the future. The Judge, in his own way, was trying to make the same point.

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