Mediation in the field of workers compensation is an extremely effective procedure that promotes faster resolution of disputed claims at a likely lower cost to both parties. In Pennsylvania, workers compensation cases can be scheduled for either a voluntarymediation, or a mandatory mediation. Both of these can provide successful results for the injured worker.
In 1996, the Pennsylvania legislature first provided Workers Compensation Judges with the ability to conduct voluntary, informal mediation conferences. These conferences are an opportunity for the parties to attempt to bridge any gaps in their positions involving cases where settlement is appropriate. In 2006, mandatory mediation was introduced and current Pennsylvania law requires that the WCJ schedule a mandatory mediation conference early in the litigation. The early scheduling of this conference is an attempt to reduce costs and promote quick resolution for a case in which the parties can come to an agreement. The litigating judge is required to schedule the mandatory mediation unless there is a finding that an attempt at mediation would be futile.
It is important to note that a case can be mediated at any stage of the workers compensation claims process. For example, I have had cases where a petition to modify, suspend or terminate benefits has been filed (but the case is postured appropriately for settlement), and we have proactively reached out to the defense attorney to mediate the case before the first hearing even takes place. In some of these cases, we are able to completely resolve the matter before there is even a hearing on the merits of the defendant’s petition. We then are able to utilize the first hearing on that matter as the hearing to seek approval of the settlement.
Mandatory mediation can be an effective mechanism even if the case does not resolve on that day. For example, if one of the parties is being unreasonable or over valuing their position, the mediating judge most likely will tell that party why their position is off base. Many claimants may expect too much of a settlement given their workers compensation rate; or a defendant may be undervaluing the scarring and disfigurement portion of a claim and a seasoned mediating judge will address these issues.
I have also been involved in cases where both voluntary and mandatory mediations have occurred. In one specific case, we represented an injured truck driver and the defendant reached out to us immediately after filing a Modification Petition. We participated in a voluntary mediation, but were not able to resolve the matter. That petition went to a decision and we prevailed, allowing him to continue to receive benefits. Thirteen months later, the defendant filed a Termination Petition, and this time we were scheduled for a mandatory mediation, participated and were able to secure a favorable settlement for our satisfied client.
Whether it is voluntary or mandatory, the mediation process has proven to be a very effective tool in the workers compensation system. The judges I have used take the matter very seriously and come to the conference prepared to put in the time to allow the injured worker to participate in the process and be heard.