Witnesses and Worker’s Compensation Hearings
While worker’s compensation hearings are not quite like the formal trials you may have heard of or even attended, there is still a lot of preparation necessary to put forth the best possible case. One of the essential areas of preparation is deciding who to call as a witness. The initial thought may be to call everyone and anyone. However, it is imperative to take a more strategic approach in deciding whom to call as a witness.
Make Your Worker’s Compensation Witnesses Count
First and foremost, your witnesses should provide testimony relevant to your case. More specifically witnesses should offer information not already submitted as an exhibit. While it may feel necessary to have witnesses testify about your honestly and character, it is much more important to have testimony supporting all elements of your work-related injury and resulting damage.
Hearings are allotted a relatively short amount of time, usually around two to four hours. If a subsequent hearing occurs, it is usually not scheduled until several months after the original hearing. So while subsequent hearings may at times be necessary due to the circumstances of your case, most attorneys and clients prefer to be efficient and only have one hearing.
The Usual Suspects in a Workers Comp Hearing
Let’s take a look at potential witnesses and examine how they might help or harm your case:
Injured Worker (the Claimant)
The majority of hearings only usually have one witness, the injured worker (IW). Unless the IW has a diagnosed medical issue (neurological condition, medication side effect, etc.), the administrative law judge (ALJ) expects them to testify at their own hearing. Usually no one knows the details of the injury, medical treatment, lasting effects, etc. better than the IW.
Calling a co-worker to testify may seem like a good idea, but I advise particular caution when asking a co-worker to testify on behalf of the injured worker. Oftentimes you are asking this person to provide information directly against the interest of the person/company who signs their paychecks, so there is an inherent conflict of interest. In addition, it is usually not helpful to have a witness testify against their will by a subpoena or court ordered request for a witness to provide testimony. The best-case scenario would be to seek testimony from a co-worker that no longer worked for the employer at the date of injury.
Often IWs will want their treating physician to be front and center at their hearing. The majority of the time, physicians will charge a very large fee for both preparation and the actual time spent traveling and attending the hearing; this bill often can be several thousand dollars. A better option is to make sure you have already submitted a detailed medical report from your physician, which also addresses any possible defenses. Keep in mind ALJs do not like repetitious information, which is what you get when physician testimony simply repeats information from their medical report.
Similarly to physicians, Vocational Experts will usually submit a detailed written report, making their testimony likely repetitious and unnecessary. While vocational experts will not charge as much as physicians, they will still charge for both preparation and attendance of the hearing.
Believe it or not, family members can be credible and necessary witnesses. Sometimes the IW does not understand or cannot effectively communicate the extent or impact of their injury. In such circumstances, it is incredibly important for family members to stick to personal observations so their testimony is not dismissed as bias and unhelpful.
As you can see, choosing witnesses for your hearing can have a significant impact, positive or negative, on your worker’s compensation hearing. You can never start preparing too early. If you believe your worker’s compensation case will be set for hearing soon, contact one of our workers compensation attorneys to discuss the best strategy for your case!
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