What to Expect at your Workers’ Compensation HearingOn January 13, 2020 by Raul Dinwiddie
Hello. My name is Kenneth Switzer, and I am the Chief Judge of the Tennessee Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims, a part of the Bureau of Workers Compensation. Injured workers who have problems receiving care or payments under Workers’ Compensation can receive assistance from the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. You have probably already talked to an ombudsman, if not, you certainly can. Or you may hire an attorney to represent you. If disputes are not resolved after talking to an ombudsman, the next step is to file a PBD, Petition for Benefit Determination. This document starts the mediation phase. Once the PBD is filed with the Bureau, a trained mediator will work with you and your employer to resolve your dispute by phone or in-person. If an agreement cannot be reached, your mediator will file a DCN, or Dispute Certification Notice, with the Court Clerk. The DCN identifies the unresolved, disputed issues and starts the court phase. Either party can request an evidentiary hearing within sixty days of the filing of the DCN. If you do not file a request for either hearing in the 60 day period you case may be dismissed unless you have a good reason for the delay. The Court will set a “Show Cause” hearing to allow you to explain. Two types of evidentiary hearings are available in our court. The first is an Expedited Hearing. This hearing is useful when you need medical care or temporary disability benefits quickly but haven’t healed and aren’t ready to prove permanent disability at a Compensation Hearing. The second type is a Compensation Hearing. In this hearing, the judge makes a final decision about whether you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, after you have healed, including ongoing medical benefits and permanent disability benefits. A Request for Scheduling Hearing leads to a Compensation Hearing. Even if you have not yet healed, you can still file a Request for a Scheduling Hearing. In a Scheduling Hearing, you and your employer’s attorney speak with the judge by phone. The judge then issues a Scheduling Order. A “Scheduling Order” sets deadlines for your compensation hearing, for discovery of evidence, and for additional mediation, if appropriate. Whether filing the “Request for Expedited Hearing” or the ”Request for Scheduling Hearing” form, you must properly complete the “certificate of service” section. This section requires you to provide a copy of this form to all involved parties. Write down their names and contact information in the appropriate blanks and check the box for the method of delivery. If your employer is represented by an attorney, a Bureau employee can provide you his or her contact information. Once all the contact information is filled out, sign the form and send this out to the other party and to the Court Clerk. If one of you requested a hearing, a docketing notice will be sent to you both, confirming when and where the hearing will take place. Read it carefully, so you know where to go and when to be there. In fact, you should try to arrive early on the date of your hearing. In preparation for the hearing, the assigned judge will review your court file to understand the disputed issues in your case. This doesn’t mean that the documents contained in the file automatically become exhibits at your hearing. You must make sure that the documents you intend to rely on, at the hearing, are properly presented to the other party and entered as exhibits before the Court. Before we enter the hearing, let’s go over a few tips. The Pre-Hearing Statement. Submit a pre-hearing statement at least 10 business days before the hearing. This is your opportunity to let the Court know about your claim and evidence you have to support it. Failure to file a pre-hearing statement may result in some of your witnesses or evidence be excluded from the hearing. Send a copy of all information to your employer’s attorney. Identifying Witnesses and Exhibits. At an expedited hearing, your witness may testify by affidavit if it is properly signed and notarized. If you need witnesses that you don’t think will come, you should subpoena them. To do so, fill out the form from the Court’s website, file it with the Court Clerk, who will sign it and return it to you. You are responsible for delivering it to the witness. Medical Records. You need proof that your injury is work-related. To obtain medical records, speak to the doctor’s office manager or medical records personnel. Written medical records or opinions are sufficient for an Expedited Hearing so long as they are signed by the doctor, but not for a Compensation Hearing. Medical records you intend to present at an expedited hearing must be certified or signed by the medical provider and sent to the court at least 10 days before the hearing. An electronic signature is OK. A doctor’s deposition (or a C-32 form from our website) is necessary to present a doctor’s opinion at a Compensation Hearing. Read the Guide for Self-Represented Litigants before coming. It provides even more tips, like organizing all of your medical records by date with a table of contents. Motions. If you disagree with any motion filed by your employer, file a response explaining why within the time allowed. And finally, a few housekeeping tips. Bring copies of everything that you want the judge to consider on the day of trial. Forgetting a potential exhibit at home will not work to your advantage. Carefully review all information submitted by your employer’s attorney before the hearing, and work with him or her to agree which documents should be admitted into evidence. And, if you have received any written questions or requests for documents from the attorney, you must respond to them as best you can before the hearing. An ombudsman from the Bureau can explain this process and review documents, but he or she cannot provide legal advice. Let’s move on to the hearing. The hearing is held for you and your employer to present your dispute to a judge. Our hearings are designed to be open and accessible, even for people who are not represented by a lawyer. This is your opportunity to present evidence. Evidence can be documents (such as medical records, photographs, bills, letters emails texts, and affidavits) and what people testify to in the courtroom. Each document is labeled as an “exhibit.” The judge will probably go over a few ground rules and may or may not ask for opening statements, where each side briefly summarizes his or her position. The next portion of the hearing is called the proof phase. In the proof phase, witnesses testify and other evidence is introduced. A common challenge is proving causation, which means your injury was work-related (normally requiring proof from a doctor) and compensable by law. Think about what you want the Court to do and which documents in addition to your testimony will convince the judge. For example, if you think a bill should be paid by your employer for a treatment, you should introduce the records showing that the bills resulted from the work injury —not just the bill. Present your proof and testify, “Tell Your Story” Testifying is often a critical part of the hearing. You have probably seen enough trials in movies and on TV to know that testifying means sitting at the witness stand and answering questions. If you don’t have an attorney representing you, however, you don’t have someone to question you and draw out important information. So look at this as your opportunity to simply tell your story. How did you get hurt at work? What happened afterward? Why did you file for workers’ compensation benefits? Make sure you testify as to what, when, where, and how. And don’t forget to tell us to whom you reported the injury and when. The Judge needs to know if you missed work due to the injury. If so, when did you miss? How long were you out? Did you have a doctor’s note? Tell the story in your own words, but do not speak for others. Injured Worker – “And so I went to see Dr. Oglesby” “He examined me, and he told me that my” Employer’s Attorney – “Objection, your honor, it’s hearsay.” Injured Worker – “How can I tell you what happened, if I can’t tell you what Dr. Oblesby told me?” Narrator – Hearsay is probably the most common objection raised during evidentiary hearings. You can object, so if you hear something that sounds objectionable speak up. If you don’t understand why the employer’s attorney objected, the judge will likely explain it to you. Remember to give the judge a chance to rule on the objection. Another frequent objection is relevance. Injured Worker – “On Monday, March the 14th,” “I came into work, I started the coffee, and
I had brought in some donuts for Emily’s” “birthday. We were celebrating her
birthday and we were all in a really” “good mood, having a good time, and…” Narrator – Sometimes people want to tell every detail of their story; that’s just human nature. Unfortunately, too much detail, makes it easy to confuse the issues that are on trial. So, when you testify, help keep everybody on track with just the essential facts of what happened. Think about what you’re going to tell the judge. What are the most important facts? After you testify, the employer’s attorney will have the chance to cross-examine you. You’ll have the opportunity to cross-examine his or her witnesses, too. Injured Worker – “Mr. Bryan isn’t it true that I texted you on March the 15th and told you” “that Dr. Oglesby had taken me off of work, and didn’t my husband come by” “with a piece of paper from Dr. Oglesby telling you that I was off of work?” Employer – “No; I don’t remember.” Injured Worker – “You don’t remember, or you don’t know?” Employer – “I don’t remember.” Injured Worker – “You’re such a liar! You’ve always had it out for me…” Employer’s Attorney – “You’re honor, I’m going to object. She’s asking multiple questions at once” “She’s arguing with the witness. And those last statements weren’t even questions!” Narrator – When you are cross-examining a witness, ask questions; don’t argue. Focus on the issues or events the witness has already testified about. It’s important to keep your cool during a hearing. The Judge will not allow anyone to interrupt, raise his or her voice, or become argumentative. Our number one rule is courtesy and respect. After each side has presented all of their evidence, the judge will allow them to make closing arguments. You should summarize the facts as you see them and explain why those facts entitle you to the benefits you are seeking. This will be your final chance to explain what you want from the Court. Injured Worker – “…denied my claim. I think they should have to pay for those bills,” “pay for my future medical treatment, and I think I should” “get benefits for the time that I had to” “spend off of work. Thank you.” Narrator – The judge doesn’t make a decision right away when the hearing is over. Rather, the judge will issue a written decision, or order, as soon as possible. You’ll get a copy of the order by email or certified mail, or both. The order will summarize the facts and law and will contain reasons for why the judge ruled as he or she did. The order will also contain instructions if either side wants to appeal, since the deadline to appeal for an expedited hearing is only seven business days from when the order is released. The Bureau has many more resources available to help self-represented litigants. The two main publications are the workbook and guidebook. The workbook helps identify the types of records and evidence needed to prove your case; the Guide has information to prepare for coming to court. For any additional questions, contact the Bureau’s ombudsmen at 800-332-2667 or ask procedural questions of court staff. I hope that you have found this video helpful and informative. Believe in better. We do.