The simplification project initiated by the Division of Workers' Compensation in February has borne its first fruit with the adoption of a series of policy and procedure changes applicable to the processing of disputed cases and settlement agreements at its local offices.
The new policies and procedures were crafted by a committee which included all interested segments of the workers' compensation community, including claims administrators, applicant and defense attorneys, and representatives of the Division of Workers' Compensation and the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board. The committee is chaired by DWC Assistant Chief Mark Kahn.
The changes are designed to ensure better use of available calendar time and more timely review of proposed settlements.
Use of available calendar time will be improved by increasing accountability for cases being continued or taken off calendar, reassigning cases to available judges when the assigned judge cannot hear all his or her cases scheduled that day, and starting hearings and conferences at 8:30 a.m. rather than 9:00 a.m.
When cases are continued or taken off calendar, an order will issue and be served on all parties and their representatives -- the employer and employee, the insurer or third party administrator, the applicants' attorney and defense attorney, and any lien claimants -- which will clearly indicate who requested the delay and why, the position of the other parties, the ruling on the request and the basis for the ruling.
Standards are set forth indicating when requests for continuances and orders taking a case off calendar should and should not be granted. For example, an attorney's calendar conflict is not good cause to permit a delay unless the attorney provided notice of the conflict within 10 days, permitting another case to be substituted. Likewise, failure to be prepared, or failure to have the requisite settlement authority, are not good cause to continue a case. Costs and sanctions will be assessed where appropriate.
Cases which cannot be heard by the assigned judge because the judge is engaged in another trial will now be referred to the Presiding Judge for possible reassignment to another judge who has the time to hear the case that day. Upon agreement, a case can be continued to another day when the originally assigned judge will be available, provided the order is served on all parties and representatives.
The change in procedures for approval of settlements will require communication in writing or by telephone of concerns about the adequacy of a proposed settlement before setting the issue for a hearing. If no response is received within 15 days, the matter will be added to the judge's regular calendar; if an inadequate response is received, an order setting forth the missing evidence and suspending action will issue and be served on all parties and their representatives, and a conference will be set within 30 days if the missing evidence is not received.
Also, each office will establish a "walk-through" settlement approval procedure to enable parties to obtain review and approval of settlements in one or two visits to the office. Each office will either provide for review by one or more judges throughout the week or at a special weekly calendar session.
The new procedures will take effect December 18, 1995.