In the context of workers’ compensation law, mediation is a non-binding settlement meeting which can either be mandatory or voluntary. Attending a mediation does not necessarily mean the case will not go to a judge for a final decision. It all depends on whether a settlement can be reached by both parties during the course of mediation. If mediation fails to end with a settlement agreement, the case will proceed to determination before a workers’ compensation judge who will make a final decision based on the evidence provided by both sides.
Benefits of Mediation
The most notable benefit of a mediation settlement is the predictable outcome. If a settlement is reached, you will know exactly what you are going to receive. This avoids the risk of presenting your case before a workers’ compensation judge. While it is true that the benefits a judge may award you may add up to more than you would receive through settlement, they also may award you less, or even nothing at all. Mediation serves to take the risk out of workers’ compensation cases for both parties.
Mediation can also expedite the outcome of your case, avoiding the stress that comes with presenting your case before a judge. And it may enable you to sever all ties to the workers’ compensation insurance company.
Despite the potential benefits of mediation, it is important to know what a settlement may mean for your case before deciding whether it is the right option. In some cases, settlements are the preferred outcome, but in others the opposite is true. Workers’ compensation law is very complex, so you will want the advice of an experienced attorney to help make your decision.
How Does Mediation Work?
The goal of mediation is to reach a settlement before the workers’ compensation judge needs to issue a decision. To reach this goal, both parties are encouraged to come to an agreement, though such agreements are not always reached. If you do not like the settlement offer you receive from the insurance company, you do not need to take it. And keep in mind, your case can still settle after mediation concludes without an agreement being reached. As long as both sides agree to it, a settlement can be reached at any point before the workers’ compensation judge rules on the case.
In mediation, another workers’ compensation judge who will not decide your case will act as the mediator. This judge may either be agreed upon by both parties or assigned by the court. Depending on the judge chosen as mediator, mediation procedures may differ slightly. However, they are generally held as informal conversation designed to help the parties reach a settlement. Regardless of the outcome of mediation, at the end the mediating judge will not issue a ruling on the case.
Starting in 2006, mediations have been mandatory once either side files a petition in a workers’ compensation case. The introduction of mandatory mediation sought to reduce the number of cases making their way through the courts by encouraging settlements to be reached in cases where they are possible. If every case went before a workers’ compensation judge in court, the system would not be able to deliver timely decisions.
Mandatory mediation does not mean an agreement is mandatory, but that attendance at the mediation conference may be. The workers’ compensation judge may also rule that the mandatory mediation would be futile and cancel it.
Voluntary mediation follows the same procedures as mandatory mediation, but is performed at the request of both parties. The case does not need to be in litigation for a request of voluntary mediation to be made, and it can even be requested after the mandatory mediation has failed, but before the workers’ compensation judge makes a decision. Mediation can also be requested as many times as necessary as long as both parties agree to it. Just because the first mediation failed does not mean a settlement is out of reach.
Mediation is a voluntary or mandatory opportunity for the two opposing sides in a workers’ compensation case to reach a settlement before the judge issues a decision. A judge who is unconnected to your current litigation will serve as the mediator. Mediation comes with a variety of benefits, namely that when a settlement is reached, you know exactly what you will be getting out of it. However, that does not mean a settlement is the best course of action in every case. You will need to talk to a workers’ compensation attorney to determine what is best for your particular situation.
My name is Geoffrey Hillsberg, and I have made workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania my sole area of practice since 1995. If you have been injured in a workplace accident, contact my law office today. I will fight for the compensation you deserve under Pennsylvania State law.
The advice offered above is general in nature and may not be applicable to every case. Consultation with an attorney is highly recommended. Reliance on this advice does not represent the formation of an attorney-client relationship in the absence of a fee agreement with Mr. Hillsberg.