CALIFORNIA WORKERS’ COMPENSATION – HEARING GUIDELINES IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19
by: Talin Maghakian
As COVID-19 continues to affect virtually all aspects of our lives, one of the immediate concerns we, in this industry, are faced with is how to manage hearings and court dates while ensuring the safety of our team as well as that of all others in the community. To that end, the California Department of Industrial Relations has issued a release announcing modifications to the hearing calendar and filing procedures.
During the four-day period of March 17 through March 20, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board will only hear Expedited Hearings, which involve disputes regarding medical treatment and temporary disability indemnity. These Expedited Hearings will be held at the appeals board in-person. In other words, there are no changes to the usual procedures of Expedited Hearing throughout this four-day period. All other hearings which include Mandatory Settlement Conferences, Status Conferences, Priority Conferences, Trials, and Lien Conferences will be automatically continued to another date determined by the DWC.
Beginning March 23rd through April 3rd, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board will continue to hear Expedited Hearings in the usual manner with in-person appearances. Status Conferences, Mandatory Settlement Conferences, and Priority Conferences, however, will be held via Court Call only. It is noted that no Trials or Lien Conferences will be held during this time.
From March 17th through April 3rd, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board will be closed for filing purposes. Therefore, all pleadings and proposed settlement documents, including Compromise and Releases and Stipulations with Request for Award, must be filed online or mailed. Until the WCAB re-opens for filing purposes, there will be no walk-throughs of settlement documents or in-person filings of pleadings. Please note that this temporary procedure will, inevitably, delay the approval of settlements as we will be unable to obtain settlement approvals on a walk-through basis. In addition, the delays surrounding the filing of a Declaration of Readiness to Proceed mean that we may not obtain a hearing date right away.
Although the DWC has adopted these protocols with the objective of being able to carry out hearings as seamlessly as possible, we have to be mindful of and prepared for potential delays with respect to the resolution of discovery issues and setting trials. For example, if opposing attorney does not appear via Court Call, the judge will simply continue the hearing to a later date. This is done so out of professional courtesy in order to be mindful of the fact that this pandemic is, unfortunately, creating disruptions for everyone on multiple fronts. Despite these temporary protocols and procedural modifications, we remain committed to carrying out these aspects of litigation, under these guidelines, in the safest and most expeditious manner. As always, if there are any questions or concerns regarding anything mentioned here or any general thoughts and inquiries, we are always available to chat. Please note that all the information here is subject to change and these dates may be extended as the situation continues to be monitored. Please be assured that we will continue to update you on each and every development. Be well and take care of yourselves and each other!
For more information, please visit: www.dir.ca.gov