Understanding Mediations Under the PA Workers' Compensation Act
March 23, 2016
By Paul Della Franco, Esq.
In its simplest terms, a “mediation” in a Pennsylvania workers’ compensation case is a meeting between the parties in a dispute and an independent mediator, who is almost always another PA workers’ compensation judge. The purpose of the meeting is to determine if the parties can agree on a fair way to either fully settle the claim or at least narrow the issues which may be in dispute with the assigned judge in your case.
The concept of the “voluntary mediation” was first introduced in PA workers’ compensation matters in 1996. In 2006, the PA Legislature made mediations “mandatory” whenever a disputed petition is filed by either party in a work injury claim.
Injured workers taking part in these mediations must understand some important concepts. The first (and most important) concept is that, despite being mandatory, mediations are not binding on either party. Neither you nor the employer or insurance company can be forced to settle your claim and the mediating judge will not even issue a decision on the merits of the case.
It is also extremely important to understand that everything said during a mediation is confidential and will not be shared with the judge who is assigned to actually decide your case. Each mediating judge has his or her own procedures and methods for conducting a mediation, with some being very formal and others being very relaxed. However, there will never be a court reporter present to make a record of the proceedings. In other words, what is said during the mediation stays in the mediation room.
Before attending a mediation, we are required to send the mediating judge a memorandum which presents the strengths and possible weaknesses of our case in an attempt to explain our “settlement demand” to resolve the case. That “demand” is made only after we have a frank and thorough discussion with our client regarding many factors involved with their pending case, as well as their future medical needs and employment options. This is very fact-specific and individualistic to each case and client. There are no hard-and-fast rules which attach a certain monetary value to a particular injury or case.
Except in extraordinary circumstances, our clients attend the mediations to personally get feedback from the mediating judge and to provide us with the authority to negotiate the terms of a possible settlement during the negotiations. These terms often are monetary in the form of a lump sum dollar figure, but they also involve other important issues like medical treatment, pensions, health insurance, etc.
As a firm which predominantly represents the interests of union members, the labor, employment and workers’ compensation attorneys at Willig, Williams & Davidson understand our clients’ unique concerns and vested interests, many of which have been earned through years of hard work and service. We understand how proposed settlement offers made by workers’ compensation insurance companies often fail to take into account the benefits that you may be forfeiting by settling your case for what may seem like a fair number at first glance.
For the above reasons, we often advise our clients to walk away from the mediation session without fully settling their claim. Some cases may resolve in the weeks and months following a mediation, but many of our cases are fully litigated and go to a final decision. Unlike many firms, we do not rate the success of a mediation based upon whether the parties actually reach a settlement at that meeting.