Over the past several years we have seen the increasing use of mediation to settle work comp cases in Minnesota. If you have a work comp claim, you may wonder why a settlement conference was scheduled on your case but a mediation has then been proposed or scheduled. What’s the difference, and is one better than the other?
Settlement conferences are automatically scheduled by the workers’ compensation Office of Administrative Hearings after a claim is filed.
In every work comp case where a Claim Petition is filed, a settlement conference is automatically scheduled for approximately 6 months later. Depending upon where you live, these conferences may be scheduled by telephone or may take place in person with a work comp settlement judge in St. Paul. A settlement conferences is an informal opportunity for the parties to attempt to settle any disputed issues and sometimes the entire claim.
Settlement conferences are scheduled to last one hour and a work comp judge presides over the conference to help the parties reach a settlement. It is not a trial and the judge does not have any authority to order the parties to agree to any particular terms, nor does the judge have authority to make any decisions about the disputed issues. If the claim does not settle, it will be put on the trial calendar for a hearing a few months later with a different judge.
Frequently, settlement conferences are either postponed or canceled altogether. A conference may be postponed because it is too early in the case to discuss settlement, possibly because of pending surgeries or ongoing medical care which needs to be completed. In other cases, the parties may agree that there is no possibility of settlement and ask that the case be put on the trial calendar for hearing. This may occur in cases where the insurance company has denied liability for the claim or where there is a dispute over a proposed surgery or medical procedure. In these types of cases, there may be no room for compromise and the disputed issues need to be decided by a judge.
If a case is settled at a conference, the defense attorney will prepare a Stipulation for Settlement, which sets forth the terms of the agreement. All necessary parties must sign the Stipulation and it is then submitted to a compensation judge for approval before the insurance company makes payment.
A mediation is also a method to get the case settled but it is more formal and involved than a simple one hour settlement conference. Typically, the parties agree to mediate cases that are more complicated or have more value. The parties will choose a mutually agreeable mediator who is experienced in Minnesota workers’ compensation matters. The mediation may take place at the mediator’s office, at one of the attorneys’ office or at a neutral site depending upon the availability of conference rooms and where all the parties live or work.
Prior to the mediation, the employee or her attorney will submit a detailed case evaluation and settlement proposal to the insurance company. Both parties will also submit confidential background information to the mediator before the mediation so the mediator understands the issues, the claim values and the relative position of each party.
Once the mediation begins, the parties will usually be in separate conference rooms and the mediator will visit back and forth between the rooms with settlement offers and counter offers. The process may take part or all of the day until the parties either come to an agreement or determine that they cannot agree on a settlement amount or terms. Most mediations will probably be completed in 2-4 hours.
If no settlement is reached the case simply continues toward a hearing on the disputed issues and all discussions, offers or counter offers remain confidential and cannot be discussed or used at any later hearings. Essentially, there is no risk in pursuing a mediation and it is often a good way to find out how each party is valuing the case, even if a settlement is not reached. If nothing else, you will find out what the insurance company is willing to pay to settle your claim at that time. The value of any claim might increase or decrease after the mediation, depending upon medical, employment or other factors.
If a settlement is reached at the mediation, the process is the same as for any other work comp settlement. A Stipulation for Settlement is prepared, signed by the parties and submitted to a work comp judge for approval.
Do I Need an Attorney for a Mediation or Settlement Conference?
Technically, any employee may represent himself in a work comp claim at a settlement conference, mediation or even at a trial. However, keep in mind that the insurance company has experienced claims adjusters and attorneys looking out for their interests. Also, the insurance company’s interests are not the same as yours, so it is not reasonable to expect that they will voluntarily pay you a fair settlement if you are not represented by an experienced attorney.
In any type of work comp case, particularly where there are discussions about settlement or disputed issues, it is a good idea to consult with an experienced attorney to make sure you understand your rights and are being treated fairly by the insurance company.
If you have been injured on the job and have questions about the Minnesota work comp system, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. You can contact us anytime, with questions about your case or to arrange an absolutely free consultation. It won’t cost you anything and we will always give you our honest assessment about whether you need a lawyer to represent you. If you have questions or concerns about the cost of hiring an attorney, you can check out this previous post- How much does it cost to hire a workers’ compensation lawyer in Minnesota?
At Bradt Law Offices, we have been providing assistance to injured workers all across northern Minnesota and the Iron Range for more than 30 years.
As always, thank you for visiting our blog and please spread the word that we are a good source of work comp information for workers injured in northern Minnesota or anywhere on the Iron Range.