“So, my Ohio workers’ compensation claim has been scheduled for hearing. What information will I need to provide? What questions will they ask me? How anxious should I be??”
I’ve written about what to expect at your Ohio workers comp hearing but, as anything unknown can be stressful (and, hey, you’re dealing with a legal process, so why wouldn’t you be nervous? I would be!!), I hope some information might help calm your nerves.
The questions you may be asked, and should be ready to answer, depend on the hearing. Also, if you are represented by an attorney or union representative, they may do a lot of the talking and ask you questions to supplement their summary of the claim and medical evidence. Some hearing officers ask lots of questions, others ask few or none. Employer TPA [Third Party Administrators] representatives may not ask questions.
Types of Questions You Might Be Asked During An Initial Allowance Hearing
At initial allowance hearings (claims disputed by your employer and/or the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation [BWC]), you will probably be asked to describe:
- How your injury happened
- What job you were doing
- How long you’ve done that job
- Whether you’ve had problems of this sort before or previous injuries, whether to this part of the body or anywhere else. If so, how your condition is different now than before (for example, is it in the same or a different location? Is the pain location/level different?)
- When you reported the injury to your employer
- When you went for medical treatment, how you got there (ambulance, yourself, co-worker) and who sent you there (did your employer direct you to go to their dispensary or to a doctor they have a contract with?)
- Why you didn’t go to a doctor or report the injury right away, if that’s the case (did you think it’d just get better on its own? Afraid of being seen as a whiner?)
- Other underlying medical conditions you have (you may wonder why employers or the BWC have any business asking about this. In lots of cases, I think they don’t – they just like to fish for information. In others, it may establish you have underlying causes for your diagnosis unrelated to your work activity. An example is carpal tunnel syndrome which may result from repetitive work activity but also from pregnancy, thyroid conditions and certain hobbies.)
- Whether there were witnesses to your accident or you told anyone about it
- Your work history for the year prior to your injury (if your attorney hasn’t already asked about this, shame on them! We need a full picture of your earnings for the 52 weeks before your accident to get your wages set properly.)
Typical Medical Treatment Hearing Questions
At medical treatment hearings, the issue is usually whether the treatment is related to and necessary for your injuries, cost-effective and helpful. I often ask clients to explain:
- What their doctor has told them about the treatment and why s/he is recommending it
- What treatment has been tried before this recommended treatment
- Whether you’ve had this treatment before and, if so, how it helped/how long it lasted
- That you want to have this treatment (this may seem silly but some clients have told me there is no way they’re gonna do the treatment their doctor has prescribed. There’s little sense pursuing treatment you refuse to have!)
- How this extension of treatment helps keep you working (obviously, you working is much more attractive to your employer and the system than you having to be off work because of pain–or at least it should be)
Questions Asked in PPD and PTD Hearings
With permanent partial disability hearings, you typically won’t be asked a darn thing. These hearings are scheduled for only 6 minutes (3 minutes per side!) to present a summary of your medical impairment and the percentage of loss of function the examining doctors have found. These findings are summarized in the medical reports submitted by the parties.
In contrast to permanent partial disability hearings, hearings on permanent total disability are typically scheduled for 30 minutes. Hearing officers want to know about:
- Your work history
- Summary of your treatment
- Your efforts at rehabilitation (physical and vocational)
- When you last worked and what caused you to stop working
- Whether you retired from work
- If you retired, whether you took disability retirement or regular retirement (tread carefully here as the Industrial Commission is determining whether you voluntarily left the work force. If they conclude you did, permanent total disability will be denied even if your injury has left you barely able to function)
- If you are receiving or have applied for PERS, SERS, Social Security (retirement or disability)
- Medications you are taking
- Your typical day now
- What your physical/ emotional problems/limitations/restrictions are
Questions Typically Asked During Hearings about Violations of Special Safety Requirements
Hearings about Violations of Special Safety Requirements are often the longest ones held before the Industrial Commission, typically scheduled for 90 – 180 minutes. These may be recorded hearings (a court reporter is present), involve many witnesses and lots of technical testimony about machinery and safety regulations. Questions for you will likely include:
- Very detailed description of how your injury occurred
- How/how long you were trained on the job process/machine
- Whether you were instructed to remove safety guards
- When/how/if you or others reported problems with the machinery and the company’s response to those concerns
- What safety equipment was available and how you were trained to use it
- Lengthy discussion of the job you did and the associated processes
- The age of the machine/safety guards and equipment (such as when was the machine manufactured)
Essentially, you are testifying about stuff you already know, so don’t sweat it. Just give some thought to things you may not have thought about for a long time (dates of prior injuries, doctors you saw for those, etc.). If you say you’ve never had back pain before but medical records show you have, it looks bad. Obviously, it’s hard to remember all past events and you can try to explain you didn’t remember a previous incident as it was so minor. It’s best, though, to admit prior problems and explain the difference between those (perhaps they healed) and now. Working people often suffer lots of minor injuries over the years–those don’t prevent you from having a valid claim now. Just be upfront about it.
A Workers' Comp Attorney Can Help Tell Your Story
You needn’t be a medical or legal expert–you are talking about your job, how you got hurt and the problems you now have with your body, something you know more about than anyone (you know even more than your doctors about your pain!). If you’re represented, your workers' comp attorney will guide you in telling your story. I explain the hearing process to my clients and advise them just to tell the truth about what happened. If you’re nervous, tell the hearing officer! By and large, they are sensitive to this being an unfamiliar process for you and will strive to set you at ease. Like all of us, some hearing officers are grumpier, some got up on the wrong side of the bed or are frustrated with something unrelated to your claim. By and large, however, they will treat you with respect, strive to listen to all sides and make the right decision based on the facts presented to them. Compared to court proceedings, Industrial Commission hearings are more relaxed in that sworn testimony typically is not required and all parties are permitted to present their position to the Hearing Officer.
After your first hearing, you’ll have gathered lots of information about what’s expected of you–heck, you’ll be on your way to being a grizzled veteran of Ohio workers’ compensation hearings!