There are several very important reasons not to go to a Virginia workers compensation hearing on your own. I hear that a lot of injured workers say that they are willing to “roll the dice” with the and represent themselves at a Virginia workers compensation hearing. They are afraid an attorney will cost them too much and they think, incorrectly, that if in their mind they “should” be entitled to benefits that they will, of course, get them. I generally caution injured workers against this type of thinking because there are several traps that people who don’t know workers compensation law can easily fall into. Below are several of them below to illustrate what I’m talking about:
1) Mistakes. If you make a mistake (miss a deadline, do not get the medical record to prove your case, fail to file documentation, or fail to call an important witness) there is no “undo” button and you cannot make it better or fix it after the hearing. The Commissioner will only be able to review and consider evidence in the case that was properly documented, disclosed, and filed with the Commission within their time limitations. Filing documents a day after the hearing is too late (in most cases). On appeal, there is no new evidence that can be submitted.
2) Language. The legal and medical terminology can be very confusing and it is very hard to successfully argue your claim unless you are well versed in the medical terminology, as well as the medical and legal standards the Commissioner will be reviewing to make his or her determination. Medical causation is very important to your case.
3) Interrogatories. This is the formal written question and answer process called “discovery” that both injured workers and the insurance company take part in prior to going to a hearing. Do you know what questions to answer? Do you know what questions to ask? Do you know that when you are sent Interrogatories to answer you only have 21 days to respond to them?
4) Depositions. This is the formal verbal question and answer session that is also part of the “discovery” process that takes place prior to going to a hearing. Do you know what questions to answer? Do you know what questions to object to and why?
5) Deadlines. If you miss a deadline, you could have important information missing from your claim file and the Commission and the Commissioner will not be able to consider it when reviewing your file; or even worse, your claim could be dismissed altogether!
6) Appeals. If you go to a hearing and the Commission rules against you, you will have the opportunity to file an appeal to the decision; however, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to find an attorney to take over your claim at this point. Hiring an attorney after the fact does not undo any mistakes you made yesterday. If you had an attorney in your corner at the first hearing, chances are much better that your attorney will represent you on an appeal because he or she already has an extensive knowledge of your case. I, generally, do not represent injured workers on appeal when I did not represent them at the hearing because I need to have my evidence, facts, and exhibits put together at the hearing level so I have a basis for the appeal. When someone has gone to a hearing on their own without an attorney, most of the time, they are losing because they did not get certain facts or evidence in that are necessary to win and those omitted facts can’t be added later at the appeal level.
These are just some of the most common reasons that I tell injured workers that at the very least, if they are going to a hearing, they need to consult an experienced workers compensation attorney to make sure all of these issues are addressed.
If you would like more information on the Virginia workers compensation system, order my book, “The Ultimate Guide to Workers’ Compensation in Virginia” by clicking this link, or call our office today (804) 755-7755.