The two primary tools to achieve a settlement in a workers’ compensation case are settlement conferences and mediations. Settlement conferences and mediations are effective tools that can help adverse parties reach a mutually-agreeable resolution. In recent years, a greater number of police officers, firefighters, and other first responders injured in the line of duty are using mediation to settle their claims.
This article discusses the differences between the two tools and which process may be more appropriate for your case.
A settlement conference is an informal opportunity for parties to attempt to resolve issues in dispute or the entire claim. In a settlement conference, a workers’ compensation judge serves as a neutral party to help the parties reach a settlement. The judge will hear both sides of the case and help the parties recognize the strengths and weaknesses of their respective claims and defenses. In doing so, the judge does not order the parties to agree to any specific terms nor does the judge make a decision on the merits of the case. A settlement conference is simply an opportunity for the parties to be in the same room with one another with the sole objective of resolving the issues in dispute or the claim as a whole.
Settlement conferences are held at the Office of Administrative Hearings in St. Paul. If the parties are unable to attend the settlement conference in person, the conference may also be scheduled by telephone.
A settlement conference is scheduled to last one hour. This conference is automatically scheduled by the Office of Administrative Hearings four to six months after the Claim Petition or Medical Request is filed.
What should I expect?
A settlement conference is not appropriate in all cases. Many times, settlement conferences are “continued” or postponed to allow time for a pending surgery or ongoing medical treatment. It is also common for settlement conferences to be cancelled when the parties agree that there is no possibility of settlement. In this case, the parties will ask that the case be put on the trial calendar for a hearing. This happens frequently when the primary dispute is a proposed surgery or medical procedure because there is no real way to compromise. For example, the insurer will either pay for the employee to undergo a fusion surgery and the related care or it will refuse to pay for care.
Additionally, settlement conferences may not be appropriate in high value or complex cases. Settlement conferences are only an hour long and this may not provide the parties with enough time to work through all of the issues in dispute.
Mediation is the more formal than a settlement conference and is typically used in complicated or high value cases. Mediation is always a voluntary process and one will not be automatically scheduled by the Office of Administrative Hearings. After choosing to mediate the claim, the involved parties will choose a mediator that is agreeable to both the employee and the employer. The mediator is typically an attorney or a judge who has many years of practice in the area of workers’ compensation.
Prior to the mediation, the employee’s attorney will submit a detailed case summary and “settlement demand” to the insurance company. This settlement demand is usually the starting offer by the employee during the mediation.
During the mediation, the parties will be in two separate rooms and the mediator will serve as the “go-between,” relaying the offers, counter-offers and respective positions of the parties. The mediator will only disclose information that he or she has been specifically authorized to disclose. In addition, if the parties are unable to reach a settlement, the offers back and forth between the parties will be kept strictly confidential and are not admissible at hearing.
The mediation may take place at the mediator’s office, at one of the attorneys’ offices or at a neutral site. In most cases the mediation will occur at the office of the employee’s attorney, the Department of Labor and Industry or the Office of Administrative Hearings.
A mediation can be scheduled at any point so long as all parties agree to participate; however, parties typically schedule mediations after discovery has been completed and the case is proceeding toward a formal hearing.
What should I expect?
Most mediations are scheduled to last three hours; however, this may vary depending on the complexity of the issues and the value of the case. Even if a settlement is not ultimately reached during mediation, the process is still often helpful. Many times, it’s a good way to find out to how each party is evaluating the case, both in terms of value and in terms of liability.
Don’t wait to get an attorney involved if you are an injured police officer or firefighter and have a Minnesota workers’ compensation claim. The process can be complex and you want to be sure you receive the full benefits you are entitled. Contact Meuser Law Office, P.A. for a free no-obligation consultation and claim evaluation by calling our office at 1-877-746-5680. At Meuser Law Office, P.A. we keep our clients informed of the process as well as what to expect each step of the way.