How Work Comp Trials Work
If an employer or its insurance company denies your claim, you have two choices:
- Give Up
- Litigate, Demanding Full and Fair Compensation
Unlike other legal matters, disputed workplace injury claims are not resolved in court.
There is no dramatic, “We’ll see you in court” proclamation. Comp cases in North Carolina are handled largely by way of an Administrative Law process.
Denials of claims of legal liability and damages are appealed to a Deputy Commissioner of the North Carolina Industrial Commission.
What Happens at the Deputy Commissioner Level?
“We operate under a different set of procedures and policies. One of the purposes of the Workers’ Compensation Act is to avoid the time and expense of traditional courtroom litigation.”
– Kevin Jones, Workmans Compensation Lawyer
Once a hearing date and time is set, the parties begin first by focusing on the “fact witnesses,” what caused the on the on the job injury, and how you were hurt.
“Trials” are conducted before a Deputy Commissioner of the NC Industrial Commission. The Deputy Commissioner (DC) is responsible to determine what happened and whether to award the Plaintiff (the injured employee) lost wages and compensatory damages.
The hearing before the DC starts with “fact witnesses.”
That means the lawyers for the respective sides present evidence from eye-witnesses and everyday people who have knowledge of what took place, causing the accident.
The witness list may include people familiar with the workplace location and what took place that resulted in the personal injury.
Hearings in front of the Deputy are purposely intended to last no more than 4 hours. In practice, few if any matters go beyond that amount of time.
At the Deputy Commissioner Hearing, experts are NOT called as witnesses.
It is only after the Hearing that counsel for the Plaintiff and Defendant begin to conduct formal discovery relating expert testimony and opinions.
Expert witness testimony may include things like medical care and treatment, long-term prognosis, second opinions, and “causality” evidence.
What caused the specific injury is often an issue.
Lawyers for each side may present evidence from bio-medical engineers, medical professionals, and other learned professions.
Given the complexity of such testimony and evidence, that can take months to accomplish.
That’s especially true if the Employer challenges whether the injury is work-related or the result of some other, independent cause or long-term care issues due to a catastrophic injury.
Once the discovery process with Expert Witnesses is concluded, written arguments are made to the Deputy Commissioner.
The Commissioner thereafter has up to 6 months to enter an opinion or award, deciding in favor of one party or another. (Employee vs. Employer)Appeals from the Deputy Commissioner
Both the injured employee and the employer have the right to appeal the ruling of the Deputy Commissioner.
Those appeals are taken to what Comp Lawyers refer to as the “Full Commission,” which is the NC Industrial Commission in Raleigh. The appeal to Full Commission does not mean every Industrial Commission Commissioner in the state is involved.
Once again, Workers Compensation appeals are not taken to trial. They’re not handled in court, generally by 3 “judge” panels.
Instead, legal counsel for the Plaintiff and Defendant Employer appear on the behalf of their respective clients and argue the legal matters before 3 Full Commissioners of the Industrial Commission.
The decision regarding the appeal is made by at least by a 2/3 majority of the Full Commissioners. A unanimous decision is not required.
Written briefs and oral arguments are made by counsel before the Full Commission.
You are not required to appear. In most instances no new evidence is taken. Pretty much everything is handled by the lawyers.Appeals to the Courts
The North Carolina Court of Appeals (NCCOA) handles appeals from the Full Commission. At the appellate level, three judges on the COA panel determine whether the NC Work Comp Laws were followed.
In a very limited number of circumstances, the NC Supreme Court may take certain matters for review.NC Worker Compensation Lawyer – Kevin Jones
If you have questions about your Comp Claim or don’t feel you’ve been treated fairly by your Employer, give us a call. We’re here to help.
Attorney Kevin Jones has dedicated his entire legal career to helping people injured in accidents and workplace injuries.
You may reach Kevin directly by email at: Kevin@DodgeJones.com
Legal Consultations at our office are always free of charge. Everything you tell us is strictly confidential.
We look forward to hearing from you.