Litigation of a Florida workers’ compensation case is something nobody wants to have to deal with.
When the Florida Workers’ Compensation Law was enacted, the hope was that appropriate benefits would be provided to injured workers without the need for a lengthy and complicated lawsuit. However, sometimes litigation is unavoidable.
But hiring an attorney to represent your workers compensation case doesn't have to mean that you'll be entering litigation. In fact, it shouldn’t. There are certain steps that your lawyer should take before resorting to litigation.
If it has been determined that litigation is necessary, your lawyer will file a Petition for Benefits, which starts the litigation process. The Employer/Carrier may or may not respond to the Petition for Benefits. Regardless, in every case where a Petition for Benefits has been filed, the parties are required to attend mediation before moving on to a trial.
A mediation is a meeting between the parties (and their counsel, if any) wherein a state or private mediator tries to assist the parties in reaching a satisfactory conclusion without a judge. The mediator has no authority to decide the ultimate outcome of the case and communications during mediation are confidential. Parties are required to attend mediation within 130 days from the date a Petition for Benefits is filed.
At a mediation, the parties may be able to resolve some, all, or none of the issues being litigated or may even reach an overall settlement of the case. If there are any unresolved issues at the conclusion of the mediation, the parties proceed to the next stage of litigation.
The next step is a pre-trial hearing, wherein both parties identify certain facts that they agree upon and outline the claims that remain outstanding, the defenses being asserted, the evidence to be presented, and the witnesses to be called to testify.
The final stage of litigation of a Florida Workers’ Compensation case is the final merits hearing.
Final merits hearings are held before one of the Judges of Compensation Claims. Part of the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH), the Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims (OJCC) is a court of limited jurisdiction and has no powers other than those granted by the Florida Workers’ Compensation Law. These final merits hearings are bench trials with a judge serving as both the finder of fact and the decision maker on any questions regarding proper law and procedure. In normal circumstances, a final merits hearing must take place within 210 days from the date a Petition for Benefits is filed.
One thing that makes Florida workers’ compensation cases different than most other kinds of civil litigation is the fact that in a Florida workers’ compensation case, parties may have multiple different final merits hearings (trials) rather than one trial at the conclusion of litigation.
If you find yourself feeling unsure of what your rights are under the Florida Workers’ Compensation Law, contact us at Law Office of Brian D. Tadros, P.A., so that we can provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision on your next step.