Hearings at the Workers’ Compensation Commission

court1This article explains what happens at a Maryland Workers Compensation Commission Hearing, and how you can prepare for it. Please read it over now so you know what is going to happen at your hearing. Then read it over again right before your hearing so it is fresh in your mind.

My office will automatically schedule an appointment for you to prepare for your workers’ comp hearing. We will send you the date and time in a letter. The appointment can be by phone, or you can come into the office if you like. You can reschedule the appointment it if it is not convenient.

During the preparation appointment, we will discuss the details of your workers’ comp case, and the specific questions I will ask you. I will answer any questions you may have. I like to do these about a week before the hearing so everything is fresh in your mind on the day of the hearing. Of course you can feel free to call me right now if you have a question or want to discuss it. 

Location

Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission hearings are located at regional hearing sites. They are not held at the local Courthouse. Here is a link to a page with maps and directions to all the WCC hearing sites

The one we usually go to is the Southern Maryland Regional Site in La Plata. Hearings held here are for people living in Charles County, St. Mary’s County, Calvert County, southern Prince George’s County, and even southern Anne Arundel County (for reasons that make no sense). 

 The address is 403 East Charles Street. Charles Street is also known as Route 6. It is the main East-West road in La Plata. The La Plata site is located in the building right next to Casey Jones Restaurant & Bar, which is a good local landmark. It is very close to the railroad tracks on Rte 6 in downtown La Plata. While the building sits directly on Route 6, the actual entrance to the WCC is on the back side of the building, so it can be a little hard to find. Turn off Route 6 at Casey Jones, and park in the large parking lot behind Casey Jones. Then look for the long wooden wheelchair ramp on the buildng to the left (west) of Casey Jones. It leads right into the hearing site.

The other hearing site I often go to is in Beltsville at 4780 Corridor Place, Suite D. It is easy to get to, as it is close to I-95 and the Beltway, but it is tucked away and sort of hard to see until you are right up on it. You will need the map for this one. Click that link above. Please note that parking stinks at this location. You should try to get there early, which is not always possible due to traffic. Many people park illegally in that lot. If you have to do that, just let me know when you arrive and we will try to deal with it the best we can. 

Here are some pictures of the Southern Maryland Regional Hearing Site:

WCC Hearing Site in La Plata from Route 6. It is inside the building on the right. The building on the left is Casey Jones. Drive between them to find the parking lot. (Those wierd partial cars are what you get by taking a panarama pic with moving objects.)

WCC Hearing Site in La Plata from Route 6. It is inside the building on the right. The building on the left is Casey Jones. Drive between them to find the parking lot. (Those wierd partial cars are what you get by taking a panarama pic with moving objects.)

 

WCC Site La Plata from the parking lot - complete with attorney poking his head out the door

WCC Hearing Site La Plata from the parking lot. You enter where the wooden ramp is on the left.

 

The WCC Hearing Room in La Plata - witness stand on the right

The WCC Hearing Room in La Plata – you sit in the witness stand on the right by the TV.

 

Preliminaries

I will meet you in the waiting room outside of the actual hearing room. It is good to be about 10” early, but no earlier than that unless I specifically ask you to be. Don’t talk about your workers’ compensation case until you see me as there will be a lot of people around, and you don’t know who the other attorney is. There can also be witnesses and you may not know all of them. It is best not to discuss any private details of your case unless you are sure nobody else can hear you.

When the Workers’ Compensation Comissioner arrives, he or she will call the docket. I will answer for you when your name is called. In all likelihood you won’t be first on the list, so there will be time to discuss your case while we wait for other cases to be heard. This is one reason you don’t need to be there super early.

You will likely see me interact with the opposing attorney. I will likely be nice. You should expect that. Don’t be freaked out if you see me laughing and joking with the person on the other side of your case. Attorneys are professionals, and we have a lot of professional courtesy with each other. The workers’ compensation community is a small one, and we all know each other pretty well. I think I have a pretty good reputation. We may argue with each other in the hearing room, but most of us like each other on the outside. If anything, that helps your case. If some attorney hates me and wants to stick it to me, that just hurts you in the end.

This is a good point in the article to remind you about your behavior at the hearing. Please don’t take offense at this. I am sorry to sound like your Mom, but I have to remind you of this at some point.

The Workers’ Compensation Commissioners have seen a lot. They know the issues and how to decide them. One of the only ways you can really screw up your case is to make the Commissioner dislike you. Don’t be angry. Don’t be argumentative. Don’t talk over the other attorney. The Commissioner’s hate that!

If you act in anything other than a very professional, businesslike manner, you are only hurting your own case. I have seen clients lose cases they should have won simply because they made the Commissioner mad at them. Do NOT be that guy. Keep it cool and businesslike at all times – no matter what happens. If something gets tense, I will handle it. You must stay calm.

Having said that, you have to realize things rarely ever get tense at a workers’ comp hearing. It is usually a snore-fest. It is nothing like TV. You are more likely to fall asleep than get mad. Don’t let this section scare you. I have to say it for those few cases where it applies.

The Hearing

The workers’ compensation hearing site is set up like a small courtroom. The Commisioner is like the Judge, and sits in the elevated chair behind the desk. You sit in the witness stand on the right side of the room. The attorneys will sit at a table in front of the Commissioner. 

When your case is called, you will take the witness stand. Stay standing. The Commissioner will swear you in before you take your seat. I will submit an evidence packet containing all of your medical records. The Commissioner will have that in front of her when you testify, but she won’t likely be able to read them all until afterwards.

The first thing we do is set the stage for the Commissioner. We tell her the date of accident, the average weekly wage, and the issues we are raising that day. 

After that, I get to ask you questions. If we are there for permanent partial disability, i actually start with a monologue where I summarize your medical treatment. Then I will ask you the specific questions for your specific workers’ compensation case.

Some of the usual questions i ask are below. Of course, everyone’s case is unique, but these questions are normally asked so be prepared to answer them. In most cases, you will be 90% prepared if you can answer these questions.

Hearing on Permanent DisabilityPPD benefits at the end of your workers’ comp case

  • What complaints do you have about ____ (injured body part)? (Do you have pain? Loss of use? Less range of motion? How bad is it?)
  • What medications do you take for it? (How often? Dosage? How does it help?)
  • How does your injury affect your ability to do your job?
  • How does your injury affect other aspects of daily living? (Think of how it affects your everyday life – sports & activities, sleep, household chores, sitting or standing, driving & traveling, etc.)
  • What is your educational level? Did you have any other formal training? (This matters in certain cases, but not all.)
  • Did you have any injuries to the same body part before this accident?  
  • Have you had any injuries to the same body part since this accident?

Hearings on a request for medical care – when they deny something your doctor requests

  • How does the affected body part feel? What problems are you having with it?
  • Why do you want the treatment?

Hearings on a challenged claimwhen they deny your workers’ comp claim from the beginning

  • Your employment – Where? How long? What are your job duties? What are the physical requirements of the job?
  • The facts of the accident – Where were you when it happened? What happened?
  • Did you report the accident? When? To who? 
  • When did you first feel pain? What did you feel?
  • Did you have any injuries to, or medical problems with, that body part before this accident?

Cross Examination

Many clients fear cross examination unnecessarily. People watch too many movies and think court is terribly dramatic. That’s a Hollywood lie. Truth is, court is usually a bore, and the workers’ compensation commission is doubly so. The defense attorney is not likely to jump down your throat like Tom Cruise demanding the truth from Jack Nicholson. In fact, they will probably be the exact opposite. They will probably be sweet as pie. 

Just remember you are “on” at all times when you are testifying. The Commissioner is listening, and the court reporter is making a record. Answer the questions completely and truthfully – and in a professional and businesslike manner.

Just keep in mind that truth is always your friend. No matter what they bring up, be truthful. They have some facts on their side, and they have arguments to make. Those facts and arguments won’t usually kill your case.

What will kill your case is the Commissioner thinking you are a liar. Getting caught in any lie or half truth, no matter how small, will taint all of your testimony. 

Here is an example: If you hurt your back and cannot work, they may ask you if you can mow your lawn. You say “never” because you usually don’t, but you answered too quick and you forgot about the one day 2 months ago when you felt good for one day and you did mow the lawn. You only mowed half of it, and you walked slow, and you paid for it with pain the rest of the day. But if they pull out a private investigator’s picture of you mowing the lawn after you deny you can do it, the Commissioner is going to think you are a liar – about everything you testified to. You can try to explain it away, but the damage is done.

And the irony is, if you had just said “yes” it probably would not have affected your case anyway. Who cares that you mowed half your lawn one day? That doesn’t mean you can work full time! Now it will affect your case, and not because of the fact you mowed the lawn, but only because it appears that you did not tell the truth about it. That is how you can kill your own case.

Please remember to (a) think about your answer before speaking, and (b) always be 100% truthful, no matter what.

The Decision

The Workers’ Compensation Commissioner will not make a final decision the day of your hearing. He or she will have to review the medical records before making a final decision. You will get it in the mail about 2 weeks after the hearing. When you get it, you can read this article I wrote about how to decipher it. They aren’t written in very user friendly language.

Conclusion

I suggest you read this over again right before your hearing, so it is fresh in your mind. Call me if you have any questions about anything in this article.

About Southern Maryland Law

Andrews, Bongar, Gormley & Clagett is one of the oldest and largest law firms in Southern Maryland. We have been serving clients here for over 50 years. With more attorneys and a larger staff than most other local law firms, we can handle a wider variety of legal matters. Each attorney concentrates his or her practice in a few key areas, so you can be assured of the expertise you need. But we are not so big that we forget about personal service. Your legal matter is unique, and requires a personalized approach. We will always remember that. If you have a legal issue, call us today to schedule your consultation.