There is just no set answer to this question. The truth is that the employer and insurance carrier control the timeline–the harder they fight, the longer it takes. A simple case can be settled within 4-6 months while a more difficult case can take well over a year.
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First, let’s look at the process of bringing your claim to the Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation (DLHWC). When first you contact our firm, we will help you gather the evidence that you need to substantiate your claim: proof of employment and proof of injury. Oftentimes, especially for PTSD or other psychological injuries, you may not have been diagnosed with an injury. We can help you with that process. Once we have your proof, we’ll file your claim.
The next step is to interact with the insurance company. As you might suspect, these companies don’t like to pay claims! That’s where we can help. We will fight the insurance company on your behalf. There are several steps involved at the DLHWC level; and we know them well. Every Defense Base Act case begins at the DLHWC. In many cases, the claim is settled at this level, but disputes sometimes cannot be resolved at the DLHWC. These could be something as simple as a medical benefit being denied, or something more complex like the total claim being denied. If it can’t be resolved at the administrative level, one of the involved parties can submit an LS-18 Prehearing Statement form to request a referral to the OALJ.
Now, let’s look at the process that takes your case from the DLHWC to the Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ). Most Defense Base Act claimants are strangers to the administrative hearing process. They don’t know how long it takes to get a hearing or have a decision made, and they certainly don’t know what happens during a hearing. Luckily the lawyers at Military Justice Attorneys can help illuminate the process.
Once the administrative hearing process has been started, injured workers tend to have a lot of questions for their attorney. Below are some of the most common:
What Happens After the DLHWC Transfers My Case to the OALJ?
To begin with, your case will be docketed, which can take up to 2 months, according to the OALJ. It could take even longer if you don’t live near an OALJ district court due to budgetary issues. To justify travel costs, a judge must have multiple cases on his or her travel docket, so if you live far from a district court, expect docketing to take up to 3 months or longer.
Remember that this is for docketing alone. The formal hearing or trial won’t take place for at least another 4 months, so the full amount of time between the referral request and the trial can be anywhere from 5 to 9 months.
What Should You Expect After the Referral but Before the Hearing?
When your case is finally docketed, you begin preparing for trial. You will be expected to collect records, produce documentation, participate in a deposition, answer questions, and submit to evaluations and examinations. Attorneys on both sides will depose expert and fact witnesses, write motions, and investigate. Parties will participate in mediation or exchange a list of settlement demands. If you cannot resolve the claim on your own, you will proceed to a formal hearing with a judge.
What Happens at Trial?
At a formal hearing, your lawyer will present evidence to support your litigation position. You will be required to take the stand to talk about any disputed issues. Topics likely to come up are any needed medical treatments and your ability to work. Your attorney may also present vocational and medical experts for opinion testimony. An administrative law judge will preside over the trial, ruling on objections, accepting evidence, and weighing credibility.
How Long Does a Decision Take?
Administrative law judge decisions can take a long time – around 5 months according to the OALJ website, and this is just on average. The amount of time it takes a judge to write their opinion is determined by the facts and complexity of the case. Expect it to take at least 3 months but up to as long as a year.
To those unfamiliar with the administrative hearing process, it can appear daunting. Just remember that every case is unique due to its particular facts. Move forward to trial with the knowledge that you and your DBA defense lawyer will have to work hard to present your best case to the judge, then remain patient while waiting for the results.