Some cases never go into litigation. An injured worker in Pennsylvania may receive work comp benefits, then return to her pre-injury job with no drama or litigation. But many cases do end up in court. There may be a dispute over the amount of the compensation due, the nature of the work-related injury, a disagreement about whether a job is within the injured worker’s physical restrictions, unpaid medical bills, late checks, varying medical opinions from a panel doctor or IME doctor versus treating physicians, or disputes regarding what type of treatment is reasonable and necessary. These are just some examples.
So what happens then when a Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation case ends up in court? First, a petition is filed by the injured worker’s PA Work Comp Lawyer, or by the insurer’s counsel. Once a petition is filed, the responding party has 20 days to file an Answer, admitting or denying the allegations. Next, the case is assigned to a Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Judge- and all parties receive a copy. After the Assignment Notice, a Notice of Hearing is mailed advising the parties when the first hearing is and the location. Some Work Comp Judges takes testimony and evidence at the initial hearing, while others conduct what’s called a “Pre-Trial” hearing where the attorneys simply confer with the the Judge about how they intend to litigate the case, with the Judge issuing a Scheduling Order dictating when the evidence for each side is due.
After the initial hearing, the attorneys secure evidence and take necessary depositions to meet their respective burdens of proof. Many cases will settle before the end of the case. If the case does resolve, the parties will usually enter into a Stipulation of Facts for the Judge’s approval, or a Compromise & Release Agreement which the Judge must approve at a hearing. If a case doesn’t settle, the parties submit their evidence at a final hearing (sometimes it’s permissible to do this via mail- each Judge has their own rules) and the Judge advises when the written arguments are due- these are called “briefs”.
When will I testify? It depends on the type of petition that is filed and what Judge is presiding. For a Claim Petition- that is, a situation where the Employer denied the claim, most Judges take testimony at the first hearing. Other Judges allow the parties to take a deposition (testimony outside of court) early on, then testimony in court at the final hearing. For other petitions, the injured worker often testifies at the second or final hearing. There are some petitions that will not involve testimony. For example, if there is a Penalty Petition for unpaid medical bills, there may be no need for testimony because the parties can submit documentation instead.
From start to finish, a petition can take up to 12 months to litigate. Each side has 90 days to secure their evidence under the Rules, but note that some Judges move things quicker, and some are more forgiving with deadlines. No two cases are identical and each takes its own path. It is important to study each Judge’s rules.
If the Judge rules against me, can I appeal? Yes. You have 20 days to submit an appeal to the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board. If the Board doesn’t rule in your favor, you have the right to take an appeal to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania- and ultimately the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. It is not easy to have a Work Comp Judge’s Decision overturned. However, it is always worth examining the Decision to make sure that no errrors were made, to see if the correct law was applied, and to make sure the Judge summarized and considered all the relevant tesitmony.
Do I need a PA Work Comp Attorney? Yes!! It goes without saying that if you do not have an experienced Pennsylvania Work Injury Lawyer representing you, your odds at a victory are very slim. It is not impossible, but it’s very difficult for an injured worker to know how to secure medical evidence, to pay thousands of dollars for a medical deposition, to know the rules of evidence, etc. The fees are contingent for an injured worker which means the attorney only gets paid if he/she wins you wage loss that you’re not currently getting, or prevents the insurer from reducing your wage loss- or if he/she strikes a global settlement of your case- that is, a full and final settlement of all issues.
If you are an injured worker in Pennsylvania, call or email me at 215-206-9068, firstname.lastname@example.org 7 days a week for a free consult or just to learn more general information about how Pennsylvania Work Comp cases work.
The Cardamone Law Firm, LLC