Within 2-3 weeks of filing your claim, your case will be assigned for a conciliation. This is a meeting between you, your lawyer, a representative of the insurance company, and a Department of Industrial Accidents conciliator who will encourage everyone involved to resolve the matter voluntarily and avoid bringing the case before a judge. The conciliator listens to all parties and reviews and files all relevant documentation provided by both you and the insurer. If there is a disagreement regarding the extent of your injury or illness, both sides will submit documentation that notes the “last best offer” of compensation for the conciliator to consider.
If you and the insurer are not able to come to an agreement during the conciliation meeting, the conciliator does not have the power to order or deny compensation. Instead, he or she is responsible for reviewing all of the information presented and making a recommendation to a Department of Industrial Accidents judge for an informal proceeding called a conference. Per workers’ compensation law, once the recommendation is filed, you will be assigned a judge and scheduled for a conference “immediately.” Realistically, the time from conciliation to a conference is based on the number of cases ahead of yours and can range from a few weeks to as long as six months. Once the conference date arrives, the judge has full authority to order (Order of Payment) or deny (Denial of Compensation) benefits. If the “last best offer” procedure was used at the conciliation, the judge will choose between the offer made by the insurer and the offer made by the employee. However, the judge has the power to choose another figure altogether as long as there is a reason given for doing so.
Both parties have the legal right to appeal the decision of a conference judge and request a hearing—a formal trial at which witnesses testify under oath and are cross-examined. The fee for filing an appeal is $350, which is paid by the requesting party. This fee pays for a medical exam by an “impartial physician” and once the doctor’s report is sent to the judge, other medical evidence will only be admissible if the judge deems it necessary. If the conference judge orders the insurance company to compensate the employee and the insurance company appeals, benefits must still be paid while the appeal is pending.