Workers’ compensation hearings are usually scheduled because of a dispute about whether you are entitled to benefits or the amount of benefits you should receive. While many cases settle, some disputes are more likely to go to a hearing than others (for example, disputes about the degree of a worker’s permanent disability or whether an injury is work related).
This article will provide you with some general guidelines to help you prepare for your workers’ comp hearing. However, because workers' comp hearings involve complex legal rules, you should be represented at your hearing by an experienced workers’ compensation attorney. (To learn more, see Why You Should Hire a Lawyer for Your Workers’ Compensation Hearing.)
Before Your Hearing
Many injured workers will need to testify at their hearings, so you should prepare for this in advance. While you shouldn’t memorize your testimony (you don’t want it to sound rehearsed), you should have certain key facts at the forefront of your mind. You can also help your lawyer prepare for the hearing by gathering any additional information he or she will need.
- Summarize how your accident or injuries occurred. If the insurance company claims that your injury is not covered by workers’ comp (for example, because it claims that you were off duty when it happened), there will probably be questions about how your accident occurred. Review any accident reports and medical records that describe your accident. Make sure your description of the events remains consistent with those records, or be prepared to clearly explain any errors.
- Prepare a timeline of your medical treatment. While you won’t be expected to remember every detail of your medical treatment, you should have a basic recollection of which physicians you have seen, any diagnoses you have been given, the major treatments you’ve received and their outcomes, and what sorts of work restrictions you’ve been given and for how long.
- Identify your current symptoms and limitations. If there is a dispute about whether you are able to return to work or the degree of your permanent disability, you should be prepared to explain your current symptoms and physical limitations. Be truthful and do not exaggerate. For example, if walking causes you pain, don’t say that you can’t walk at all anymore, but do point out that you can only walk for short periods of time. Note that the insurance company may have video surveillance of you, which it won’t hesitate to use if you claim you can’t do something that you were caught doing on tape.
- Talk to your coworkers or other potential witnesses. Your attorney will help you decide whether you need witnesses to support your claim. You should tell your lawyer about any coworkers who witnessed your accident or family members or close friends who have personal knowledge of your disability as a result of your workplace accident.
During the Hearing
You should confirm what time you should arrive at the hearing with your attorney’s office in advance. Your attorney will likely ask you to arrive early so that you can talk beforehand or make last-minute preparations. While you don’t need to wear a formal suit, you should dress respectfully and appear well-groomed. Your attorney can advise you on what to wear, although a button-down shirt and slacks are usually appropriate. You should also bring any medical equipment or devices you would typically need for an outing, such as crutches or sunglasses (if you get headaches in bright light).
Workers' comp hearings often take less than an hour. Depending on how complex your case is and what state you live in, the hearing could take a few hours or more. However, this is less common. According to our readers, 83% had hearings that lasted three hours or less.
The insurance company’s attorney and your attorney will each have an opportunity to present their sides of the dispute. The lawyers will summarize medical evidence, review accident reports or other documents, question witnesses, and make legal arguments. You may be questioned by either attorney as well.
A workers' comp judge, sometimes called a hearing officer, will hear your claim. During the hearing, you should act respectfully toward the judge, the insurance company, and the insurance company's lawyer. While you may believe that you are being treated unfairly, being angry or hostile will not help your claim. Listen carefully to the proceedings and do not speak unless you are asked to do so. If you hear something that upsets you or that you believe is not true, stay calm and quiet. If you need to talk with your lawyer privately, you can discreetly pass a note to your lawyer.
If you are asked to testify, you should listen carefully to each question and consider your answer before speaking. Your testimony will be under oath, so you should answer each question completely and honestly. However, you should answer only the question asked and avoid volunteering information. For example, if the question is whether you’ve had any previous workers’ compensation claims involving an injury to your back, don’t volunteer that you’ve had a worker’s comp claim involving only your shoulder.
If you cannot remember or don’t know the answer to a question, it’s fine to say so. While you should answer questions as best you can, you should avoid guessing or speculating. For example, if the attorney asks what happened to cause the machine involved in your injury to malfunction, you should not speculate or guess as to what went wrong.
After the Hearing
The judge will issue a written order after the hearing, stating his or her decision in the case. The order usually comes out within a few weeks of the hearing, but it could take longer. For example, in California, the order should be issued within 30 to 90 days after the hearing. If you disagree with the order, you may file an appeal. The order should say the date by which your appeal is due. For more information, see How to Appeal a Workers' Compensation Denial.