Mediation in Pennsylvania Workers Compensation is common practice with cases in litigation. It also occurs when cases are not in litigation, but the injured worker and the insurance carrier have a desire to settle the workers’ compensation claim.
In 2006, amendments to the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act were enacted that included mandatory mediation requirements. If you are injured at work in Pennsylvania and are litigating a claim petition or any petition before a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ), you will likely have a mediation scheduled. Parties are required to fulfill the mandatory mediation requirements. The parties may also request voluntary mediation at any time. In fact, in some cases, more than one mediation effort may occur.
What is mediation?
Mediation is an informal process that focuses on narrowing issues, discussing strengths and weaknesses of cases, and attempting to resolve the claim prior to WCJ’s decision. The process is informal when comparing to a workers’ compensation hearing. It is an opportunity to discuss strengths and weaknesses in cases, unpaid medical bills, medical treatment, common ground on issues, and what kind of value each party has on the particular case. Even if the case does not settle at mediation, frequently both parties can walk away with a better understanding of the other party’s position and even resolve some ancillary issues in the case.
Who attends a mediation?
Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation does not utilize what you would think of as a standard mediator. Instead, Workers’ Comp Judge’s (WCJ) serve as mediators. Your mediation will be assigned to a different WCJ that is not the WCJ assigned to decide your case. The WCJ mediating your case will discuss the mediation process, facilitate discussion, guide the parties to a potential settlement, and share their insight into what they perceive to be the strengths and weaknesses of each party of the case. It is oftentimes a quite productive process. Others attending the mediation will be you, the injured worker, the injured worker’s attorney, and the insurance carrier’s attorney. Frequently, there may also be an insurance adjuster or employer representative present or available by phone for additional consultation and authority.
Do I have to settle my claim at mediation?
Absolutely not. Mediation is not binding on either party. You are not required to settle your claim. Likewise, it is important for the injured worker to understand that the insurance carrier/employer is also not required to settle the claim. Either party may decide it is in their best interest to proceed to decision in the case. There are many complicating factors that may make resolution difficult or impossible.
What Should I Expect?
You should be prepared to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your case, realities of what workers’ compensation provides and what it does not, and realistic value numbers that may not align with your thoughts. You should expect the mediating WCJ to give their assessment of your case. One thing that you need to be aware of is that an honest, frank discussion can occur with the WCJ mediator. He/she is not assigned to your case and is prohibited from sharing any information with the WCJ assigned to decide your case.
Additionally, and most importantly, you should be prepared to negotiate. Neither party will come out of settlement with everything they want. You should discuss with your attorney reasonable expectations. Just because you want a specific financial dollar amount does not mean it is reasonable or that the insurance carrier is willing to pay that amount.
Finally, if your case does not resolve at mediation, that does not mean your case will not settle. Ongoing discussions will occur between your attorney and the insurance carrier’s attorney. Perhaps your case mediated early and some of the difficult issues have since resolved. Perhaps the medical testimony and evidence presented after mediation changed the posture or picture of the case. As you case progresses through the trial calendar, other opportunities to try and resolve the case will arise. The parties can at any time request another voluntary mediation.
Pennsylvania workers’ compensation is a very specific practice of law and can get quite complex. That is why it is imperative that you have experienced and proven legal counsel on your side. Mooney Law has recovered tens of millions in benefits for injured workers throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland. We are litigators. We settle cases. We have a proven, trusted, and experienced Workers’ Compensation practice that delivers results. Call Mooney Law today for an absolutely FREE phone consultation regarding your Maryland workers’ compensation case. Call us at 833-MOONEYLAW today. Visit us on the web at Mooney4Law.com. Additionally, you can read more articles regarding workers comp settlements here.