I recently posted my summary of the most interesting changes to the workers’ compensation board rules of practice and procedure.
Shortly after the DWC published these proposed changes, they issued Newsline 2021-87 declaring the Board would be returning to in person hearings as of 10/1/2021. The conflict between the proposed rule changes and this newline is interesting and left many scratching their heads.
What struck me is these are not emergency changes, temporary changes, and have no apparent sunset or expiration dates. This appears to signal the Board is finally ready to make telephonic appearances and video trials a permanent fixture of the worker’s compensation system. Not only do these proposed regulations require the parties to actually discuss issues before the hearing (§ 10759), but any party may request the hearing be conducted electronically (§ 10816), and now there is a formal procedure for filing the pre-trial conference statement (§ 10759) in the event of an electronic hearing.
One need only to review the Board’s “Initial Statement of Reasons” to see what these proposed changes portend:
“In March 2020, the WCAB transitioned to virtual operations at the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which included the adoption of electronic signatures, service, and filing of documents by the Appeals Board as well as the Division of Workers’ Compensation’s transition to remote hearings conducted via telephone and video. To facilitate these changes, the Appeals Board suspended certain Rules. Remote proceedings and the availability of electronic communication, filing, and service have increased access to the workers’ compensation system for parties, their representatives, and the public. Based on the success of some of these innovations, the Appeals Board has determined that making these changes permanent would be beneficial to the public and to the administration of the workers’ compensation adjudicatory system.” (emphasis added)
Prior to the pandemic I had been using the CourtCall system for far flung hearings. Although that system worked reasonably well, it was slightly more complicated than strictly necessary. The telephonic conference call system which has evolved over the last 18 months, while occasionally inadvertently entertaining, has been far more efficient all around.
Since the pandemic started, I have found it far easier to reach opposing counsel, discuss issues, reach resolutions, and narrow the issues when resolution isn’t possible. All this plus no traffic, inclement weather, or searching for a parking spot. I certainly welcome these changes to help provide speedier and more efficient results.
Tune in next time to see what questions still remain after reviewing the proposed regulations.