In Maryland and Virginia, the initial hearing for workers’ compensation cases is conducted by Commissioners, whereas in the District of Columbia the hearing is held by an Administrative Law Judge. Both Commissioners and Administrative Law Judges perform the same functions. In Maryland, a Commissioner’s compensation order can be appealed to the Circuit Court for the county and a jury trial can be requested. From there, appeals are made through the appellate courts. In Virginia, an appeal from the Commissioner is first made to the full commission, and from there appealed to the appellate courts. In the District of Columbia, an appeal is made to the Compensation Review Board and then the final appeal is made to the D.C. Court of Appeals. After an application for a hearing is filed, it usually takes approximately three months before the first-level hearing is held.
Workers’ compensation cases generally involve medical questions which require reports from treating doctors. The medical issues usually involve whether the injury was caused or exacerbated by a previous condition and the nature and extent of any disability being claimed. Insurance companies are permitted to have independent medical examinations which almost always are at variance with the treating doctors’ opinions. A typical case either involves the seeking of ongoing temporary total disability benefits or the extent of any permanent partial disability. The testimony given by the claimant and any other witnesses in addition to medical reports submitted form the basis of the Commissioner’s/Administrative Law Judge’s Order.
Many of the potential issues presented at a hearing may be stipulated by the parties so that they do not have to be proven, however, the claimant must prove among other things that he/she was an employee of the employer, that there was an accidental injury, that timely notice of the injury was given, and that there is a basis for showing that ongoing disability benefits are medically necessary, and that the extent of any permanent partial disability is supported by the evidence. There are numerous other issues that may be raised by either party.
The employer/insurance company are almost always represented by counsel. They have at their disposal the ability to request previous medical reports, obtain information from insurance industry data bases, and in some instances they conduct surveillance of claimants in an attempt to show that benefits should not be awarded. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can properly prepare the case for the hearing, advise the client of the procedure that will take place, review the exhibits that will be offered into evidence, go over the testimony that will be elicited, make the appropriate objections at the hearing, cross-examine any adverse witnesses and present the case in the most favorable light for the claimant.