How long does a workers’ compensation case take? It typically takes about one year before the judge will decide your case in Pennsylvania.
The workers’ compensation litigation timeline is around one year (12-14 months) on average in Pennsylvania. This may seem like a long time, so let’s explore the reasons why:
First, the law gives your employer and their workers’ compensation insurance company a lot of power when you report a work injury. They can decide if they want to pay the benefits you deserve. As a result, employers and their workers’ compensation insurance companies often deny claims and refuse to pay benefits. When this occurs, you must fight for your benefits.
Second, an entire court system exists in Pennsylvania specifically for workers’ compensation cases. The judges only hear workers’ compensation cases and have the power to either grant or deny benefits. To fight for your benefits, your attorney will file a petition to start litigation.
While each workers’ compensation judge has their own procedures, the typical case involves the 6-step process shown below.
Importantly, you also must report your injury or illness to your employer within 120 days. If you were recently injured and have not reported your injury or filed a claim yet, please read more about workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania here and then contact an attorney right away.
STEP 1 (Months 1-2): Claim Petition Filed, Attend 1st Hearing, Claimant Testimony
This is the first step in the workers’ compensation litigation timeline. If your claim has been denied, your attorney will file a Claim Petition. This document puts your case into the court system and begins litigation. It states what injury you suffered, when it occurred, how it occurred, and other information.
Your case will then be assigned to a judge. After this happens, you will receive a letter with a date for your first hearing with the judge. In many cases, the judge will expect you to testify at this first hearing. If you do, this is your opportunity to tell your story to the judge. In other cases, the judge may schedule another time for you to testify. In any event, the judge will then provide the parties with a schedule for the rest of your case.
Unfortunately, the judge cannot award you benefits at this first hearing. Both you and your employer must be given an opportunity to present evidence before the judge can make any decisions.
STEP 2 (Months 4-5): Claimant’s Expert Medical Deposition Completed
When the judge gives the schedule for your case at the first hearing, it will usually allow your attorney about three months in order to submit medical evidence to support your claim for workers’ compensation benefits. In some cases, your attorney may submit medical records or reports for the judge to review. In other cases, your attorney may hire a medical professional to give an oral deposition.
If the doctor gives a deposition, it usually occurs outside of court. A court reporter will attend in order to create a written record of the testimony. Your attorney will then submit a copy of the testimony to the judge in support of your case.
STEP 3 (Months 3-8): Mandatory Mediation, Employer’s Medical Deposition Completed
In addition to submitting medical evidence in support of your claim, your employer has an opportunity to submit medical evidence to dispute your claim. Typically, your employer must complete their evidence within about three months after your medical evidence is submitted to the judge.
In order to obtain its medical evidence, your employer is usually allowed to send you to a doctor’s appointment called an Independent Medical Evaluation, or IME. An IME is a doctor’s examination that your employer pays for. The doctor will examine you one time, review medical records regarding your injuries and medical treatment, and then write a report. That report then becomes evidence your employer will use to dispute your claim. Your employer may submit the report or arrange for an oral deposition, just as your attorney did for your medical evidence.
In the midst of all of this, most cases are sent to a Mandatory Mediation.
Mandatory Mediation is a formal conference where a workers’ compensation judge works with both parties to see if you can reach a settlement agreement. Both parties must attend, but neither party is required to settle. The goal is for the judge to help both sides understand the strengths, weaknesses, and risks involved, which will help the parties reach a compromise. As a result, this is considered an important part of the workers’ compensation litigation timeline.
If you reach a settlement agreement during the mediation, your case is not over yet. This is because in Pennsylvania, all workers’ compensation settlement agreements must receive approval by a judge. Therefore, you will schedule another hearing with the judge on your case. Before the hearing, you will review documents that include the terms of your settlement. Once you get to the hearing, the attorneys and judge will ask questions to ensure you understand the terms of your settlement. If the judge is confident that you understand, he/she will approve your settlement and your case will be over.
If you do not reach a settlement agreement at mediation, your case will continue with the schedule your judge has already issued. While you may still end up reaching a settlement agreement at some point in the future, mediation is usually one of the best times to do so since you have a judge aiding in the conversation and negotiations.
STEP 4 (Months 7-9): Employer Fact Witness Testimony, Final Hearing
While you get the opportunity to tell your side of the story, your employer will also present testimony about their side of the story. Depending on your judge’s rules, this testimony may occur inside or outside of court. While you may completely disagree with your employer’s version of events, they have the right to present this evidence to the judge. Your attorney has the right to cross-examine your employer’s witnesses, too, which means your attorney can ask questions to show where their story may be incorrect.
The workers’ compensation judge will also hold a Final Hearing. As you can imagine, this is a critical part of the workers’ compensation litigation timeline. Here, the judge will ensure that both parties were able to submit all evidence they want the judge to consider. If that has been done, the judge will close the record. This means that the judge will not accept any additional evidence from either side.
STEP 5 (Months 9-11): Attorneys Submit Written Arguments to Judge
At the Final Hearing, your workers’ compensation judge will give both attorneys time to submit written arguments regarding your case. This usually occurs over the course of about 30-60 days. In the written arguments, the attorneys explain how they want the judge to see the evidence and the conclusions they want the judge to make. The attorneys will also point out any weaknesses in the other side’s case. After the attorneys submit their written arguments, your case is in the judge’s hands.
STEP 6 (Months 12-14): Judge Issues Written Decision
After the attorneys submit their written arguments to the judge, all you can do is wait for the judge to issue a Decision. Generally, it takes up to 90 days for the judge to write their Decision and send it out in the mail. Both you and your attorney will receive a copy when it is issued. This marks the end of the workers’ compensation litigation timeline.
Hopefully, the judge finds in your favor and awards all the benefits you were fighting for. If not, your attorney will review the Decision and determine if you may be successful in an appeal. Both sides have 20 days to file an appeal if they are unhappy with the judge’s Decision. If neither side appeals, the result becomes final. It is important that you discuss the judge’s Decision with your attorney so you understand the result.
At this point it has most likely been a year or more, but it’s worth noting some cases settle as early as four months into the process. This is possible in select cases. For that matter, you should always consult an attorney for the most accurate estimate of your workers’ compensation litigation timeline.
Experienced Workers’ Compensation Lawyers
For over 25 years, Kitay Law Offices has been defending the rights of Pennsylvania’s workforce. If you were injured on the job and your employer is not honoring your rights as set forth by the state of Pennsylvania to support its injured workers, then you should call Kitay Law Offices for a free consultation today.
Meet your workers’ compensation litigation lawyer; Paul A. Kush, Esquire
Paul is highly experienced in litigating Pennsylvania workers’ compensation cases. As a matter of fact, he is a skilled attorney who works aggressively to defend your rights. Above all, Paul will ensure the workers’ compensation laws in Pennsylvania are working for you.
You can reach Paul by calling 888-KITAYLAW.