In my ongoing effort to assist injured workers, I write to provide a brief update on the current operating reality of our workers compensation system and my advice on how to more forward during this time. Let’s get to it.
How Has COVID 19 Affected The Workers Compensation System?
Effective March 23, based upon our evolving public health emergency, the Office of Workers Compensation Hearings (OWCH) has stopped conducting in-person hearings, prehearings and mediations until further notice. All currently scheduled hearings will be converted into telephone settlement conferences to the extent possible. The latest governmental guidance indicated the Office would resume in person proceedings starting the week of April 20th; however, I do not foresee in person hearings resuming by that date unfortunately.
What Impact Will COVID 19 Have On Your Workers Compensation Case?
If you are represented by an attorney, and currently have a pending workers compensation claim, I strongly recommend you touch base with your attorney to discuss the specific impact the COVID19 pandemic will have on your case.
If you do not have an attorney, you should anticipate further guidance from OWCH in the near future as it relates to the handling of your case. If you do not receive any additional notice from the DWD regarding your case, I recommend you contact either DWD or OWCH depending on the status of your claim.
For general questions, I commend you begin by contacting the DWD:
Email Address: DWDDWC@dwd.wisconsin.gov
Phone: (608) 266-1340 (Main Number)
Fax: (608) 267-0394
Wisconsin Relay Service 7-1-1
I recommend you contact OWCH if you had a scheduled hearing, pre-hearing or settlement conference already scheduled. In addition you should contact OWCH if you filed a hearing application but have not yet received a response.
Office of Worker's Compensation Hearings
P.O. Box 7922
Madison WI 53707-7922
Email Address: DHAWCMail@wisconsin.gov
Fax: (608) 266-0018
Fortunately, like the rest of society, I believe the smart Administrative Law Judges that preside over these hearings will figure out workable, temporary solutions in the near future. I anticipate system’s ability to process cases will improve throughout the coming weeks as the use of telephone hearings or videoconferencing will skyrocket.
Despite my long-term positive outlook, I am a realist and understand that the workers compensation system did not move as fast as you would have liked it before this pandemic. Thus, you should take measures to prepare yourself in the event it takes longer to resolve your claim than you originally anticipated.
Beyond the specific guidance from the OWCH, there two other factors that may impact your claim. First, the COVID 19 pandemic has placed a great strain on our medical providers. As a result a lot of medical providers are rescheduling or postponing “elective” or “non-emergency” medical treatment. A delay in your ability to receive medical treatment will cause a delay in your ability to resolve your claim.
If you are in the midst of recovering from your injury and receiving medical treatment, you should follow the instructions/directions from your dedicated medical professionals. Please keep in mind that medical professionals across the country are doing everything they can to prioritize needs to keep us all safe.
Second, outside of a formal hearing there remains the possibility that you may be able to resolve your claim by negotiating a compromise agreement with the workers compensation insurance company. I am concerned that insurance companies may realize that a lot of people are hurting for money and use that as an opportunity to offer lowball amounts during negotiations. I am working through these issues now on several cases and will report back at a future date with additional lessons learned as we go along.
Professionally, my highest and best use during this time is to do everything that I can to assist anyone with a legal issue. To that end, I offer a free consultation to anyone in need of legal services whether it relates to a workers compensation issue or some other practice area.
If you have a telephone or internet access I can provide you the same level of consultation as if you were sitting in our law firm conference room. If Lawton & Cates can assist you in anyway, or refer you to someone that may be able to better assist you, or direct you to resources that you may be able to use to take action for yourself, call (608) 420-4033 to schedule your consultation or send me an email at email@example.com.