If you suffer a work injury, and your case goes before a Workers’ Compensation Judge, [this usually happens if there are issues being argued about, such as non-payment of wage or medical benefits], you will have the opportunity to “mediate” your case through either a Voluntary Mediation or a Mandatory Mediation. Why would you want to mediate your case? This is the opportunity for the Employer and you, as the injured worker, to sit down with a Workers’ Compensation Judge to try to settle your case for a lump sum of money, in most cases.
In a lot of cases, instead of litigating the case and letting a Workers’ Compensation Judge decide the outcome, the parties can agree to mediate the case. This mediation will allow for a settlement of a lump sum in some form or another, and the case will then be finished, and the parties will go their separate ways.
So which mediation do you choose…. a Voluntary Mediation or a Mandatory Mediation?
At (most) first hearings, the assigned Workers’ Compensation Judge will ask the parties if they want to participate in a Mandatory Mediation. If the lawyer for the Employer, you and your lawyer all agree, then a Mediation date will be given. The Mandatory Mediation will be with another impartial Judge, not the Judge hearing your case. At the Mandatory Mediation, the Judge will advise the parties that he or she will keep the settlement demand and any offers confidential. That Judge will only tell the Judge hearing your case whether the case settled or not. If the case settles, with the parties agreeing on a dollar figure, then a hearing referred to as a Compromise & Release Hearing will be scheduled for all of the parties to appear before your Workers’ Compensation Judge, who will then hear your testimony as to your understanding of the Agreement, just to make sure you understand the terms of the settlement.
So then how do Voluntary Mediations occur?
If the parties cannot agree to a Mandatory Mediation at the first hearing before your assigned Workers’ Compensation Judge, or it would be too long of a wait to get a Mandatory Mediation date, then the parties can request a Judge to conduct a “Voluntary Mediation”. There are plenty of Pennsylvania Judges to choose from who will conduct Voluntary Mediations, and there are even some Judges that will voluntarily mediate their own cases, with the parties signing off on the same.
The Mediations, whether Mandatory or Voluntary, work pretty much the same way. You, as the injured worker, and your lawyer provide an initial demand to resolve your case, then the employer, through their lawyer will make an initial offer, and the negotiations go from there. The Judge will put the parties in separate rooms, and go back and forth with the proposals. It is just like negotiating anything else, except that the settlement can have a profound effect on your future, and the future of your family. It is something to be taken seriously. Also, if you do not like the numbers offered, you do not have to settle your case. Just remember that no one can force you to settle, but your lawyer should explain what the alternative outcomes to your case will be, so that you have an informed choice.
One important point is to keep the lines of communication open with your lawyer. If you don’t like the way things are going, or you want to stop the Mediation, just speak up. It is your case, your life.