If you are reading this, we have likely agreed to a settlement of your workers’ comp case. But agreeing on the numbers is only the start of the process.
Maryland workers’ comp settlements are NOT like a personal injury settlement. When you agree to a settlement in personal injury cases, the insurer sends a check, you sign a release of claims, and it is over.
It is not that easy in workers’ comp. By now, you know that nothing in your workers’ comp case has been that easy. Why would settlement?
Several state and federal laws are what make this process complicated. It is not my policy, or the other attorney’s policy, or the insurance company’s policy. Maryland workers’ comp is a very highly regulated process and that includes settlement.
How long will this take? Usually, it takes 45 days or so from the moment we make an agreement until we actually have a check in hand. Most of that is waiting on other people. I know it stinks. But there is no way to shortcut this process. I will try to break down the coming process in a step by step outline.
(1) Is your case on appeal? Remand it!
This first section only applies if your case was appealed from the Workers’ Compensation Commission to the Circuit Court, and we were going to have a jury trial. If not, skip to the next number. If so, we have to first ask the Circuit Court to send the case back to the WCC before they can act on it. This is called a “remand.”
Technically, when you appeal from one level of court to the next, the first level (in this case, the WCC) loses any power over the case. But every settlement must be approved by the WCC (see number 5 below). So we must ask the Circuit Court to send the case back to the WCC.
To do this, we file a Motion to Remand the case, and wait for the Judge to sign it. The other attorney and I will file the Motion to Remand pretty quickly, because it is a fill in the blank form motion. But we still have to wait on the court, and that can take some time.
(2) Draft a long, complicated agreement
Most personal injury releases are one page or less. The workers’ compensation settlement agreement is going to include about 6-10 pages of writing you have to read and sign!
Some of this is pre-filled in by me. I have a “standard” settlement form with some standard language. But all settlements require inputting some very specific language that applies specifically to your case and your situation. I have to spend some time with your file, and input that specific information. This takes a bit of time. I cannot whip it up in 10 minutes.
In fact, there is some information required in every settlement that I will not have. The other attorney has to get it to me. This includes the total amount of compensation you have been paid, and the dates of those payments. I don’t have a record of that. I have to rely on them to give me that information, which often requires some waiting.
(3) Approval by opposing counsel
Once I draft the agreement, I have to send it to opposing counsel. He or she will have to review it and approve the language before you can sign it. Sometimes they will suggest additional language, or object to something I am trying to include. If so, we may have to send it back and forth a few times.
(4) Signature time
After we have an agreement that both opposing counsel and I agree on, you can come in and sign it. I strongly prefer to meet with you in person. These agreements include some weird language, and they affect very important rights like your future medical benefits. I will want to make sure I have discussed it with you (live and in person if possible) and answered your questions
If you live far away, I may be willing to mail you the agreement for review, signing, and returning to me. But even then, we will have to schedule a phone appointment where you and I discuss the agreement before you sign it.
You will have to spend 10-15 minutes reading over the agreement. I will give you the basic overview first, but you do have to read it and understand it before you sign. After you read, I will be there for your signing and be able to answer any questions.
And you will have questions. There are some parts of this agreement that don’t even make common sense. Everyone asks about them. Wait until you see the part where I show you your life expectancy! That’s right. You will be able to see the exact number of remaining months the US government expects you to live. Scary!
(5) Submission to the Workers’ Compensation Commission
Maryland workers’ compensation law is very paternalistic. They act like your parents and won’t let you make your own decisions. They must review and approve the settlement agreement before it is binding. You do NOT necessarily have control over your settlement.
However, because I have been doing this for a long time, and know what the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission needs to approve an agreement, your agreement will probably be approved. I wouldn’t be making this agreement if I thought it wouldn’t meet the approval process. That would be a waste of my time, and make me look bad in front of the Commissioners.
We will mail your settlement to the Workers’ Compensation Commission, and it will be assigned to a Commissioner. They will read it over, including the attached medical records, before they rule on it. It will sit on their desk for a bit before they get to it.
Some Commissioners take longer to get to this than others. Some Commissioners are more likely to reject the agreement or set it in for a hearing. The settlement is assigned randomly by the mail room. I have no control over who gets your settlement agreement.
At this point in the process, all you can do is cross your fingers!
(6) Rejection? Or set for a hearing?
The Commission has the power to outright reject the settlement. Sometimes, they will tell us the reason and we can fix it. Sometimes they may not give a reason. If so, that means we are probably going to file for a hearing on permanent disability and just get your award at that hearing.
Sometimes the Commission sees something they don’t like, and they want to question us about some detail of the agreement. If so, they will set the matter in for a hearing. That stinks, because we have to wait on a hearing date to get approval. But there is no way to get around that. If they want a hearing, we will go to it.
Don’t get scared reading this section. Maybe 1-2% of my settlements get rejected or set for a hearing. It is not common. And usually, it will be for an issue I know is hanging out there, and I will make you aware of the risk. But you have to know rejection can happen, and you have to be prepared for it if it does happen.
(7) Approval & Payment
If all goes well, the Workers’ Compensation Commission will approve your settlement. If so, we will both get an Order in the mail noting your settlement is approved. When that happens, the insurer has 15 days to send the checks. Normally, they don’t wait that long, because they are ready for this too. But keep in mind they can take up to 15 days.
The insurer will send the checks to my office. We will call you when your check is here. They will make one check to me, one to any doctor we hired for a rating, and one to you directly. So all I have to do is get it to you. I prefer people pick it up (and most people want to), but I am always willing to mail it if you ask me to do that. It will be your decision.
As I have said, there is no way to shortcut this process. You will have to wait until you get that check. It stinks, and it can make life hard. But as you should know by now, nothing about the workers’ compensation process is easy. Why should this be any different?
As always, contact me if you have any questions.