Can You Resolve Your Colorado Workers’ Compensation Case Out of Court?
Serving Injured Workers in Colorado
Workers’ compensation mediation is a faster and cheaper alternative to proceeding to trial that gives you more options
A personal injury or workers’ compensation case going to trial is statistically quite rare and it should be the last resort. Settling a case out of court is the best scenario in a majority of cases since a trial can be a lengthy and expensive endeavor where the outcome is much less certain.
Fortunately, a couple of alternative means to resolving legal disputes exists to help both parties negotiate a settlement before undergoing the rigors and costs of a lengthy trial.
We’ll always be there for you through the whole process. Every step of the way.
Consultation With Insurers and Their Representatives
The first thing a Colorado workers’ compensation attorney will do after reviewing your case is to consult with the insurance company’s adjuster in person or over the phone. Perhaps the adjuster didn’t do something properly and simply needs to be reminded of the law. Or maybe they do not have complete information and that’s causing your claim to be held up.
Either way, many workers’ compensation claims are settled amicably over the phone. Both sides of the case generally prefer this route because it’s quick, inexpensive and painless.
In many instances, consulting with an insurance adjuster or the insurance company’s attorney on the phone will be enough to settle the case outright. You and your attorney will need to decide if such a settlement will meet your short and long-term needs.
If there are other outstanding issues that cannot be handled through a couple of phone calls, your workers’ compensation attorney may look at some out-of-court options to help resolve your case.
What is Mediation In a Workers’ Comp Case?
Mediation is the most commonly used form of alternative dispute resolution.
In Colorado, workers’ compensation mediation is a voluntary process where parties have a confidential, collaborative forum to resolve legal issues. This process can also be called a “settlement conference,” and they’re generally used to fully settle a case rather than resolve one particular issue.
As a completely voluntary procedure, the other side does not have to honor your request to talk and resolve issues in this type of forum. If the workers’ compensation insurance company refuses to participate, then there’s nothing any legal authority can do about it.
Since 1995, the Colorado Office of Administrative Courts (OAC)—one of the main providers of mediation services in workers’ compensation cases—has used mediation with over 600 parties to successfully resolve disputes approximately 80 percent of the time. These sessions are offered by the OAC and the Colorado Division of Workers’ Compensation free of charge.
Judges and legal assistants trained in mediation can facilitate communication, clarify issues and help parties assess their options. They should not tell parties how to resolve their dispute. No ruling is handed down by mediators. They shouldn’t tell people how to resolve their differences – that’s up to them! Participants have to be willing to think creatively about options to resolve their dispute.
Mediators review each case before a scheduled mediation session. Sessions usually begin as a joint meeting where the mediator explains the process. Then, each party makes a short statement and has the opportunity to ask clarifying questions.
From there, each party meets individually with the mediator in what’s known as a “caucus.” These meetings are completely confidential, unless you expressly authorize the mediator to share something with the other side. Often, the mediator will relay settlement offers and counteroffers between each of the parties.
Workers’ Compensation Mediation Tips
Here are a few tips to help you prepare for a scheduled mediation session and find out if it can work for you.
1. Understand that mediation is the last opportunity to settle out of court
This will be the best—and last—opportunity you will have to settle your Colorado workers’ compensation dispute out of court. Parties generally have more flexibility in developing settlements than an administrative law judge, state or federal court judge, or jury will, which are bound by the statutes and regulations applicable to your case.
You also have more control over the outcome in mediation. The mediator simply facilitates the conversation while each party, in good faith, discusses possible solutions to the matter.
2. Realize that mediation is not position bargaining
The purpose of mediation is to guide parties to consider the interests behind each of their respective positions. Understanding each side’s motivations helps both parties reach agreeable solutions. Sometimes, it’s possible to agree on a settlement that satisfies everyone.
3. Know your case – do your homework before your hearing
Mediations are more likely to succeed when you and your attorney are familiar with all aspects of the case. How objective is your evidence? Do you have any documentary evidence like billing statements, correspondence with doctors, police reports and even prior case law? If so, you or your attorney will bring those to your hearing.
Analyze the other side’s case too, and know its strengths and weaknesses. Doing this helps you realistically assess your options.
4. Be sure participants in a mediation session have settlement authority
It’s best to attend sessions in-person, along with your Colorado workers’ compensation attorney, so you can fully understand the tone of the discussions. Whoever is representing your side needs to have full settlement authority. Calls to individuals not physically present at the session are possible, but the mediator will most likely need to speak with them as well.
An attorney may come in thinking they have settlement authority, but alternative solutions may arise that require your approval. Without being present at the discussions, you may overestimate the strength of your case and underestimate your opponent’s case. This is where roadblocks often happen in mediation sessions.
What If Mediation Fails?
If you and the workers’ comp insurance company fail to reach an agreement in a settlement conference—or your attorney doesn’t believe mediation will satisfactorily resolve your case—a formal hearing can be requested.
These hearings are formal legal proceedings in which an administrative law judge decides what benefits, if any, must be paid—among other issues. Each side will present evidence and call witnesses in a court-type setting. Rulings handed down by the judge are binding, unless either side decides they want to pursue an appeal.
If a judge renders a decision that you feel isn’t based upon the law and the facts of your case, an appeal can be filed within 20 days or within the time-frame provided by the judge.
Both parties will be notified and each will have to file a brief – in your case, it may be why you disagree with the judge’s ruling.
One of 2 things will happen when both parties file their brief:
- Either the administrative law judge will write another decision based on your appeal, or
- The case will be referred to the Industrial Claim Appeals Panel for review.
The panel has 60 days from when they receive your file to render its decision.
If you disagree with this panel’s decision, you can appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals within 20 days and from there to the Colorado Supreme Court. Keep in mind, the Supreme Court can refuse to hear your appeal if they so desire.
Going all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court is certainly an extreme action and quite rare. Most of the time, cases are resolved well before going that far.
Talk With Us Today – a Free, No-Risk Consultation
If you experience problems in obtaining your rightful workers’ compensation benefits or you feel you’re not being treated right by the insurance company, we strongly recommend reviewing your case with a licensed workers’ compensation attorney in Denver to understand the complexities and the process of obtaining your rightful benefits. Each case is unique – some may only require a phone call to resolve while others may require court action or possibly appeals.
There are literally hundreds of scenarios that can crop up and prevent you from either obtaining the necessary treatment or receiving all of the compensation entitled to you under the law.
Without the assistance of a qualified attorney, it’s extremely difficult to know if you’re being treated properly by your employer’s workers’ comp insurer – much less deal with any problems in an effective manner.
Fully understanding the workers’ comp system and how it should work requires a person to spend untold amounts of time and resources. You would literally need to make it your full-time job—and even then, it could prove intimidating when dealing with insurance companies and their attorneys.
Having a dedicated workers’ compensation attorney in your corner can go a long way toward obtaining your rightful workers’ compensation benefits. Insurance companies will then become more receptive to your claim as they will see they’re not just dealing with someone who is largely unaware of how the system works and the rights afforded to injured workers under the law.
Request a consultation with a Colorado workers’ compensation attorney at The Babcock Law Firm to discuss your mediation options and ways you can bring the strongest case to secure the best possible outcome.
Serving Injured Workers Throughout Colorado
From our office in Denver, we represent injured workers across the state—including in Colorado Springs, Littleton, Boulder, Aurora, Broomfield, Louisville, Lafayette, Lakewood, Golden, Thornton, Westminster, Longmont, Loveland, Fort Collins and many other Colorado cities.