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How Long will My Comp Case Take?

Q. Even though my doctors and I believe I will never be able to work again because of my work injuries, General Motors is disputing my right to weekly workers’ compensation benefits. If I file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, how long will it take for my case to be tried or settled?

A. It is hard to answer that question because every case is different.

pic-any.jpgUntil Governor Engler fired many of the workers’ compensation mediators in 2001, an injured worker in Michigan could request to mediate their claim directly with the employer’s  insurance adjusters.  The Workers’ Compensation Agency in recent years, has declined to mediate cases in which the employee is still off work at the time the claim is filed.  (Claims where a worker has returned to duty can still usually get resolved fairly quickly in mediation.)

As a consequence of this new policy, injured workers still off work are assigned pre-trial dates.  On a pre-trial, attorneys simply show up (instead of adjusters), look at a bulletin board and see what date the judge has assigned for a trial date.  If that procedure sounds pretty silly and pointless–it is. Defense attorneys bill their clients for their hard work glancing at a bulletin board and attorneys for injured workers have to explain to their clients that nothing happened in court that day.

Even though a claimant is given a trial date, that doesn’t mean the case will be tried on that date.  With few exceptions, workers’ compensation magistrates try their older cases  first.  If an employer had been paying weekly workers’ compensation benefits voluntarily but the employer suddenly stopped for some reason, those workers have a right to try to get their case tried faster than other cases on the judge’s docket.   The two workers’ compensation magistrates in Flint  have a policy of dismissing cases or threatening to dismiss cases that have been pending for more than 18 months. If you have a trial date and your case has been pending on the magistrate’s docket for 6 months, it is not likely that the magistrate will be able to hear your case that day because he or she is likely to have older cases pending 18-24 months which will get priority that day. It is common therefore for a person to have multiple trial dates before a case is finally tried or settled.

Some defense attorneys are paid to handle cases for a flat fee; those defense lawyers are interested in working out a fair settlement quickly and moving on to the next file.  Other defense lawyers are paid by the hour and get rich by engaging in a wide variety of delay tactics.  These attorneys routinely only come up with money at the  last minute when they are under pressure because the magistrate is ordering that the trial begin.  If you are dealing with a defense lawyer like this and no good settlement is offered, you usually have to wait at least 9 to 12 months at the Flint Bureau in order to get your case tried before the judge.

pic-rightsandbenefits.jpgSometimes settlements can only be entered into if a worker has been approved for a disability pension; GM workers can’t apply for pensions until they’ve been off work for five months and approval can take several months on top of that.  This can be a factor in the length of a case.  If an worker is receiving Medicare, his or her attorney also needs to negotiate with the Social Security Administration regarding its statutory lien to some of the settlement monies. The Social Security Administration sometimes takes months to decide how much money, if any, they will demand from out of the settlement.

If your case has significant flaws with it, you and your attorney may actually want to delay the case and engage in lengthy negotiations. Why rush hell-bent to trial if all you are going to do is lose and get nothing?

If a worker returns to work, sometimes employers are more willing to quickly negotiate a resolution of a worker’s entitlement to past due benefits (although if the defense attorney is billing by the hour, that is not always the case.)

If you have a good case, and want it resolved as fast as possible, we will work hard on your behalf to get you successful results as quickly as possible. (2002)

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