Over the years, I've had safety directors or claims managers tell me that workers compensation claims move slower than a 1 legged dog on tranquilizers. I would say the resolution speed of comp claims more closely resembles that of a 3 legged dog on mild muscle relaxants - - but I won't quibble over the extent of the metaphor.
Bottom line...often times comp claims DO move very slowly. Without dwelling on the obvious, let me suggest 3 legitimate reasons why comp claims aren't yet as fast as text-messaging teenagers.
1. Litigation takes time
If you have pro se claims (where the claimant does not have an attorney), you've undoubtedly noticed that these claims are usually resolved VERY quickly. Why? You can insert a joke here about fewer attorneys, like fewer speed bumps, allow traffic to move more quickly. At the risk of upsetting my fellow attorneys here, that is exactly correct. Fewer attorneys WILL result in a quicker resolution. However, the quickness of the resolution has less to do with the number of attorneys involved and more to do with the fact that are no real issues to resolve. Everyone agrees on everything so there is nothing to argue about.
In disputed claims, though, investigation takes time. Discovery takes time. Getting opinions from expert physicians takes time. Courts take time.
Years ago I had a client tell me: “Brad, I don't want you settle any of our comp claims. Take them all to trial.” I did that...for a while. After 2 years of this (and after seeing the defense costs associated with taking every case to trial), the VP of Claims called me and said: “Brad, can you start letting me know which claims can be resolved without trial?” It doesn't take a high-level of skill to take every case to trial. It does, however, require skill to know which claims should be settled and which claims should be disputed.
2. Movement takes willpower and initiative
Apart from falling down, movement takes willpower and initiative. A new client contacted me in June about taking over the defense of a claim that has been litigated since 2002. I entered my appearance, reviewed the medical records, called the claimant's attorney, and worked out a tentative framework for settlement with 3 or 4 phone calls.
I am certain that I am not any smarter than the defense attorney I replaced. Some would say he is far smarter - - he was paid to work a file for 12 years and I was the dope that resolved it with a few phone calls! Self-serving attitudes aside, I had a fresh perspective and wasn't afraid to throw out ideas to resolve the claim instead of simply throwing out ideas for continued litigation. In an area of the law where the work is often very repetitive, coming up with a new approach is often difficult.
3. Working with knowledge-deficient opponents
Common sense would seem to indicate that if the claimant's attorney knows little about workers comp law, this places me (as the defense attorney) in a better position to achieve a favorable result for my client. In this instance, common sense is completely wrong.
I have always found that claimant's attorneys who actually know what benefits are payable under the workers comp law and how to prosecute a workers comp claim are FAR better to work with than the attorneys who handle 3 comp claims per year and try to handle the claim like a jury trial in circuit court. Knowledge and experience can bring efficiency to a system that rarely seems efficient.
About the Author
J. BRADLEY YOUNG is a partner with the St. Louis, Missouri law firm of Harris, Dowell, Fisher & Harris, where he is the manager of the Worker's Compensation Defense Group and represents self-insured companies and insurance carriers in the defense of workers' compensation claims in both Missouri and Illinois. Brad is a frequent Conference Speaker and can be regularly heard on KMOX radio in St. Louis discussing a wide variety of legal topics. You can email Brad at email@example.com .
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