Mediation as a form of alternative dispute resolution can be a great way to resolve workers’ compensation cases that have been open for at least two years and have failed to reach a resolution. This is especially true if the case involves the potential of extended litigation–something that neither side will want. Litigation will end up costing both parties more money and time than mediation, and in mediation, both parties will maintain control over the outcome of the resolution. For these reasons alone, mediation is more preferable than battling it out on the courts in resolving matters relating to unsettled workers’ compensation claims.
Choosing to go through mediation allows the parties involved to narrow the scope of the issues and realize the positions of each side. This understanding allows a greater chance of resolution and the mediator–who is a neutral, third party–will be able to help the disputing parties arrive to this point if they are willing to openly discuss the issues at hand.
There are a number of important issues involved in this type of dispute that can be adequately addressed through mediation. For example, mediation can be highly successful in resolving:
• Settlement issues related to workers’ compensation claims
• Questions and disputes related to medical issues
• Discussion of light-duty employment while the case is being settled
• Suspension of benefits
• Payment of bills in a compensable medical condition
• Issues related to rehabilitation
• Disputes related to attorney fees and/or liens
• Determination of an employee’s correct average weekly wage
Mediation will take place in a face-to-face meeting between the parties involved in the dispute and their representatives, and is usually not done over the phone. This focus on communication without the encumbrances and psychological distancing that can occur over the telephone often helps “humanize” the situation, making it easier to reach a resolution between the disputants.
In cases involving disputes over large amounts of money, structured settlement experts are usually brought in to assist in helping the parties determine a fair structured settlement to resolve the claim. Since workers’ compensation claims are not guaranteed if the worker dies, it is important that the parties correctly understand the terms of the settlement before agreeing to it. It is also important that before the mediation process begins, the mediator is made aware of all extenuating circumstances related to the claim, including a summary of past settlement negotiations and possible issues with liens or Medicare Set Aside trust complications.