Workers’ Compensation Hearings
In a Georgia workers’ compensation case, neither party is not entitled to a jury trial. Instead, the injured worker or the employer is entitled to an “evidentiary hearing” before an administrative law judge (ALJ) with the State Board of Workers’ Compensation. This “bench trial” is considered injured workers’ or employer’s “day in court”.
Prior to the hearing, the injured party should have all the issues streamlined for the ALJ to consider, especially if he or she requested the bench trial. Moreover, the attorneys of record should have communicated with each other prior to the evidentiary hearing to exchange evidence important to the case.
At the hearing, the judge will request information summarizing the dispute and the reasons the parties are in court. Subsequently, the lawyers will briefly lay out their positions before the ALJ. Once the judge understands the hearing issues, the judge will “go on the record” and “call the case.” A court reporter will record the proceeding. While on the record, the ALJ will summarize the parties’ positions, and he or she will likely place the witnesses under oath.
Generally, the party with the burden of proof or the one requesting the evidential hearing will go first. For example, if the injured employee requested the bench trial on the issue of compensability, the injured worker may present initial testimony to the judge. Afterwards, the attorney for the insurance company will have the opportunity to “cross-examine” the injured employee. Once the testimony is completed, other witnesses may be called in the similar fashion and documents may be tendered as evidence.
These documents must be admissible under Georgia law. These documents will likely be medical records or similar relevant documents such as business records. If there is a dispute as to whether the document is “admissible,” the judge will make the determination to either accept or reject the proffered document.
At the close of the injured workers’ case, the employee’s attorney may present evidence to the ALJ to justify why he or she is entitled to an assessment of attorney fees.
Ramos Law Firm at a Workers’ Compensation Trial in Georgia
The employer will then have the opportunity to present its case to the ALJ by calling its witnesses and tendering favorable documentary evidence to the ALJ. Likewise, the attorney for the injured worker will be given the opportunity to cross examine the employer’s witnesses and object to the proffered evidence.
Once the employer “rests” it case, the judge will conclude the trial and “close the record.”
Contrary to popular belief, the ALJ will not issue a decision at this time. Instead, the parties will draft closing briefs and submit them to the ALJ for review. These written briefs aim to summarize each of the parties’ positions and highlights the documentary evidence tendered to the court.
Once the briefs are submitted, the ALJ will review them and weigh the evidence submitted at trial. No new evidence can be considered if the record was closed. Subsequently, the ALJ will draft a written ruling where he or she will outline the “findings of fact” and “conclusions of law.” This ruling is called an “award” and it will be published to the parties a few months after the bench trial concludes.
Either party may appeal the award but must adhere to certain deadlines and provide grounds for the appeal.
Before an injured worker participates in an evidentiary hearing, it is vital that he or she is prepared by an experienced lawyer like Bryan Ramos of the Ramos Law Firm. Otherwise, the injured employee is taking a big risk with his or her entitlement to weekly disability compensation or medical benefits.