What Happens at a California Workers’ Compensation Trial?

Real workers’ compensation trials differ greatly from the depictions of the civil or criminal trials you see on TV and in movies.

There isn’t a jury present at a workers’ compensation trial, and it is not held in a large courtroom filled with a lot of other uninvolved people or spectators. Most often, workers’ compensation trials are held in a small courtroom with a judge, court reporter and the parties involved present.

A workers’ compensation trial may only last a few hours, but if it does go on past the first day of the trial, it will be continued to another scheduled date which is usually two or three months later for further trial.

This process will continue until the trial has been completed and your case has been submitted for decision. Unlike other trials, a workers’ compensation trial does not usually continue on consecutive days. This is just one of the differences between workers’ compensation trials and other types of trials.

In this article, we’ll take a brief look at what generally happens in a workers’ compensation trial. It is hoped that such will help answer many of the questions you might have regarding your own case if it goes to trial. However, it should be kept in mind that this is only a general overview for informational purposes only.

Who Attends a Workers’ Compensation Trial?

You and your attorney will attend the trial, as well as any necessary witnesses.

Depending on the situation and issues involved, witnesses could include:

  • Co-workers who were present when your accident happened;
  • Investigators who performed research into the accident or sub rosa filming on behalf of the insurance company that represents the employer;
  • Others who may be called by either side.

There will also be representatives from the employer’s insurance company at the trial, which is usually their attorney and on occasion an employer designated representative, as well as the Judge and a court reporter.

Instead of creating a transcript of the trial, although the court reporter will be taking down what is being said by the parties, including witnesses during the proceeding, the judge will also be taking detailed notes of the witnesses testimony.

Once the trial has been completed, the Judge will prepare a summary of the evidence for the parties to review based on the trial notes he or she had taken at trial. You and your attorney should review this summary for any errors, omissions, and inaccuracies so that they can be addressed and corrected.

What is Your Role in the Trial?

First, each attorney and the judge assigned to your case will go over the parties Stipulations and Issues to frame such for trial. Once this has been completed, the Judge will read the parties stipulations and issues into the record and confirm with each party that the stipulations are correct and issues to be determined and addressed have summarized.

Any exhibits submitted by the parties will also be identified and a list of such along with assigned exhibit numbers will be put into the record. After that, any witnesses will be called.

You may be called as a first witness unless your attorney thinks it would be more beneficial to your case to have other witnesses testify before you do.

When you are called as a witness, you will be given an oath to tell the truth. Once you have been sworn in, your attorney will ask you questions directly which you will answer briefly and confidently.

This process is considered direct examination and your testimony is “direct testimony”. It is important for your attorney to help understand this process and prepare for this questioning in advance of the actual trial. This will help to try and ensure that you understand the process so that you are confident in your answers, and do not leave anything out which may affect the outcome of your trial. Of course when you testify, it is important for you to answer not only truthfully, but also as accurately and succinctly as possible to the questions asked.

When your attorney is done with questioning, the defense attorney will have the opportunity to ask you questions as well. This process is called cross examination.

If you are asked a question that attempts to downplay or negate your injuries or call into question previous injuries you may have experienced before your accident at work, don’t panic. Try to simply stay calm and answer the question as directly and accurately as possible.

A good attorney will try to prepare you for any difficult questions that may be asked based on the issues involved, but be aware that if you haven’t told your attorney the whole story behind your accident and injuries, surprises will generally turn up. You don’t want that to happen, so always be fully honest and upfront with your attorney.

Of course, treat everyone at the trial, whether they are the judge, defense attorney, witnesses, or your own attorney, with the respect that they deserve.

How to Dress for Your Trial

Remember that this is a professional environment. You do not need to “dress up”, but you should look neat, clean, and be dressed somewhat conservatively. Do not wear anything that will distract from the proceedings, and avoid tight or revealing clothing. Let your attire and appearance reflect your respect for the court and legal proceedings.

Duration of the Trial

Plan to be available all day on the day of your trial. Your case may not last all day, but you should not have to shorten the trial because of scheduling issues. Plan to arrive at 8:30 am, and leave around 5:00 pm, with an approximate lunch break from noon until 1:30 pm or so. A judge can be set for several cases each day and may have cases will need to be heard either before or after yours. Therefore, be prepared to spend at least part of your day waiting.

Final Decision & Award

It is very rare that a judge will make a final decision on the day of the trial. Generally speaking, you should receive the decision in the mail anywhere from 30 days to six months after the trial. Even if a decision is made quickly, your attorney or the defendant could appeal the decision. If this occurs, it could result in even more delays – months or even years, in some cases.

In the majority of cases, you will have a decision within three to four months of your trial being completed and your case being taken under submission. At the conclusion of your trial, the judge will have generally (again, depending on the issues involved) been given information regarding and will make a decision on:

  • Whether you sustained an injury at work in the course and scope of your employment;
  • The period of time you were temporarily disabled;
  • The extent of any permanent disability described as a percentage that you may have due to your industrial injuries;
  • Apportionment;
  • When any permanent disability benefits you might be entitled to should have started; and
  • Whether you are in need of future medical care for your industrial injuries.

Of course, if it is decided that you were not injured at work, the five concerns following the first issue listed above would be irrelevant.

If a Findings and Award is issued in your favor (and assuming that there are no appeals filed by either party), it is unlikely that you will receive a lump sum of money as part any Award, unless it is found that you are owed retro temporary or permanent disability benefits above those previously paid by Defendants.

This is yet another way that workers’ compensation trials and decisions differ from other those in other forums. A judge in the award will normally award temporary disability payments for a specified period of time. If that time period has passed and any part of those benefits remain unpaid, then you would receive a lump sum payment for the accrued and unpaid temporary disability benefit owed.

In the event you are awarded permanent disability benefits, they will normally be paid at the appropriate rate found and take into consideration your level of permanent disability and rates in effect for your date of injury.

Any permanent partial disability benefits awarded, could be paid at a rate anywhere from a minimum of $130.00 per week to $290.00 per week, again depending on the date of injury and factors involved. With regard to any permanent partial disability benefits awarded, they will be paid for a specific number of weeks based on the level of permanent disability and at the weekly rate under the schedule that the judge decides based on the evidence.

Again, if any periods of retro benefits have accrued and remain unpaid at the time of the Award, a lump sum payment will be given. If the time period has begun but not completely passed yet, then you will receive a smaller lump sum and will receive continued payments for as long as the judge has awarded them.

Let Us Clear Up Your Confusion

As you can see, what happens at a California workers’ compensation trial can seem simple, but is often times quite complicated. Attorney Todd Tatro focuses his entire practice solely on the handling of workers’ compensation cases and the applicable laws. He has both the skill and experience necessary to try and obtain the best outcome for you and your case. Contact Mr. Tatro’s office today at (559) 431-0123 or online here for an appointment to discuss your case.