If the parties in a workers' compensation claim aren't able to settle some or all of their disputes during a mediation, then the case must go before a judge. This is called a final hearing. Although it doesn't always happen in a workers' compensation case, workers injured on the job should know the general structure of a final hearing.
Some people try to navigate the workers' compensation system without the help of an experienced attorney. They may reach the final hearing stage and lose their case. This is because they don't use essential pieces of evidence or small details to the fullest advantage. If you're hurt at work and need to claim disputed benefits, contact the Coye Law Firm early on in your case.
Who You Will See at a Final Hearing
During the final hearing, you can expect to see:
- Your attorney
- The attorney representing your employer and their insurance carrier
- An administrative law judge
- Any witnesses for your accident.
Court reporters aren't typically present because the audio of the hearing is recorded. Additionally, your doctor won't be there because their testimony is taken during a deposition and submitted for the judge to review before the trial.
Where the Hearing Will Be HeldIn Florida, final hearings in a workers' compensation claim are conducted in a hearing room or courtroom in the Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims. Because Florida is a large state, the JCC has set up districts so people don't have to travel to Tallahassee to appear before a judge. If your final hearing is approaching, find the location of your district's office online.
How the Hearing is Structured and How Long it Will TakeThe final hearing is a formal proceeding. All parties are sworn-in before it starts, so whatever you say will be under oath. A final hearing usually lasts two to four hours. Sometimes a judge can come to a decision and rule on the case the same day that they are presented with the facts. If your case is complicated, then an experienced attorney can consult you on what to expect at your final hearing.
Final Hearing RulesIn most cases, final hearings must occur within 210 days of filing a Petition for Benefits. The hearing is less formal than most, but the rules of evidence are still followed. This means that you or your attorney must establish grounds for submitting documents or photographs to the court. If either party isn't satisfied with the judge's ruling, they have the right to file an appeal, which is then handled by the First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee.
Attorneys and clients win final hearings well before they reach the courtroom. There is extensive preparation that goes into a workers' compensation claim that can make or break a case. In the pretrial phase, which is typically 90-120 days prior to the hearing, the claimant or their attorney must disclose which witnesses, evidence, claims, and defenses they will use to make their case. These are essential details that cannot be overlooked. Without the proper evidence and procedure, a client's workers' comp case can be lost.
Florida's workers' compensation system is designed to give injured workers the opportunity to settle their claims before they reach a trial. Mediation and negotiation outside of court can help employees hurt on the job recover benefits faster, but they aren't always successful.