Dos and Dont’s in the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims

By Judge Amber Luttrell
Over the past 16 months or so, Workers’ Compensation parties and lawyers in Tennessee have expressed feelings of trepidation concerning the new law and court procedures. Undeniably, the 2013 reforms were significant. However, the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims assures all litigants that they may effectively function under the new-law system by being prepared. To that end, I’ve put together a few “Dos and Don’ts” to help with pre-evidentiary hearing preparations.   
Do:
1)  Read and thoroughly review the Court Practices and Procedures and Bureau’s Mediation and Hearing Procedures before coming to Court.
2)  Work together, if both sides are represented, to submit one set of medical records to the Court in advance of a hearing, in compliance with the rules.
3)  Communicate with opposing counsel or the self-represented litigant prior to the hearing, to narrow the issues in the Dispute Certification Notice (DCN) that will actually be presented at the hearing.
4)  Review the DCN carefully, to ensure that you have designated every claim or defense you intend to raise to make sure it is properly before the Court.
5)  File any affidavits and other information in response to a Request for Expedited Hearing within the five-day deadline (This applies to employers).
6)  File pre-hearing briefs setting forth your position with legal support. 
7)  Be ready at the hearing with any medical proof you need to support your position.
8) Be ready at the hearing with any fact witnesses you need to support your position.
9)  If you are seeking temporary disability benefits (This applies to employees), be ready with any medical proof supporting your claim, showing you are off work or on restrictions that cannot be accommodated, etc. Otherwise, the Judge cannot award those benefits, even in compensable cases. 
Don’t:
1)  Interrupt or respond to the other side during a hearing. This is Court. Both sides will have the opportunity to argue their positions.
2)  Address any party/attorney/witness/judge by their first name.
3)  MOST IMPORTANTLY: Do not treat the new evidentiary hearing processes as though they are taking place under the previous Request for Assistance rules, where witnesses weren’t necessary, virtually any evidence came in, and few if any rules applied. The Rules of Evidence and Civil Procedure now apply.
It’s not easy to adjust with change, but it can be done.  


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