How Long Will It Take To Get A Decision On Your Workers’ Compensation Claim In Pennsylvania?
Posted on Thursday, August 27th, 2015 at 4:39 pm
We have been handling workers’ compensation claims in Pennsylvania at our firm for many years. One of the most difficult things about fighting the insurance company on a contested work injury claim is that it takes time-often a lot of time. In fact, in our opinion, the most difficult aspect of most contested workers’ compensation claims for injured workers is the amount of time it takes to successfully litigate the claim from start to finish. The majority of us live from paycheck to paycheck, barely getting by and scraping together enough money to pay our rent or mortgage, groceries, and other necessities. We rely on our weekly or biweekly paychecks to pay for these things.
When a work injury occurs and the insurance company decides to contest the claim, that means that the insurance company is not paying benefits to the injured worker, who, more often than not, has no other source of income. Deprived of his or her paychecks because of an inability to work due to the work injury and shut out by the insurance company for the time being, the injured worker is faced with many difficult choices. Insurance companies and their attorneys are keenly aware of the financial hardships imposed on injured workers who are forced to fight for their benefits, and often seek to capitalize on these hardships when negotiating a resolution.
The Process Begins With The Filing of A Claim Petition
In Pennsylvania, the formal process begins with the filing of a claim petition seeking workers’ compensation benefits on behalf of an injured worker. Once filed, the petition is assigned to a workers’ compensation judge based on the county where the injured worker lives. Now that we have electronic filing in Pennsylvania this process usually takes about one day. As noted, the petition is assigned to a workers’ compensation judge in the county where the injured worker lives, as long as the worker lives in Pennsylvania. If the injured employee lives out of state, the petition will be assigned to a judge in the county where the employer is located. A first hearing will then be scheduled, typically about 30-45 days after the petition is filed.
While each workers’ compensation judge has his/her own procedures, more often than not the judge will want to have the injured worker testify in front of the judge at the first hearing. However, unlike the unemployment compensation process, the judge does not decide the case after hearing from the injured worker. Rather, the case is then continued for the presentation of medical evidence and possible testimony from fact witnesses. The Rules provide that the injured worker must present medical testimony, which is typically in the form of deposition testimony from the injured worker’s medical provider, within 90 days of the first hearing. The employer and its insurance company then have 90 days from the date that the injured worker presents his/her medical evidence to present its own medical evidence in defense of the claim.
How long does it take for a claim to be decided?
As you can see from the above, the system contemplates that roughly seven months or more will pass from the date the claim petition is filed on behalf of the injured worker until all evidence is presented. Then, after both parties have gathered the necessary evidence, a final hearing will typically be scheduled before the judge so that the parties can submit their respective evidence. At the final hearing the judge will issue a briefing schedule to both parties. Typically the briefing schedule is 30 days for the claimant’s attorney to submit a brief, which is the attorney’s written summary of the evidence and arguments as to why the petition should be granted, and then 30 days thereafter for the employer’s attorney to respond. Once the briefs are submitted, the judge will then read over all of the evidence and the written submissions and decide the case. It can take up to three months in some cases for the judge to issue a written decision.
Although this process takes a long time, when you prevail you will be awarded statutory iterest at 10% on all past-due benefits
Unfortunately, there are very limited opportunities for the claimant’s attorney to speed up this process. Now this is not to say that some of the cases don’t resolve during the course of the litigation and prior to a decision being rendered by the judge, however, many cases do not, and it is important that you, the injured worker, understand how long the entire process can take and plan accordingly. Your attorney should explain all of this to you during your initial consultation to avoid any confusion or dissatisfaction. We often receive phone calls from clients who are already represented by other attorneys but are unhappy because they feel that their case is taking too long. After conversation, we explain that the case is proceeding as it is supposed to, but unfortunately our process tends to be a lengthy one in Pennsylvania, and we send them back to their attorney so that they can discuss this in greater detail.
The good news is that once we prevail on behalf of an injured worker, not only does the injured worker receive all of the past-due benefits to which he/she is entitled, they also receive interest on those benefits, which is presently set at 10%!