Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, how we interact with the Division of Workers' Compensation district offices has been, and continues to be, significantly impacted.
This went well beyond how we attended hearings, but also how proposed settlements could get before a judge for approval, or basic petitions for LC 5710 fees or costs could be filed as well.
One of the most helpful developments was the ability to do virtual walk-throughs of settlement documents by getting before a workers’ compensation judge utilizing the Lifesize platform. This change went into effect on Jan. 11, 2021.
Now, after more than a year of fine-tuning this process and everyone getting used to it, the DWC has decided to do away with it. Beginning Sept. 6, every DWC district office except Eureka now allows an in-person walk-through as before the pandemic.
However, in announcing this change, it was also mandated that the virtual walk-through procedure will no longer be allowed. Thus, to get a settlement approved, the documents, along with a succinct letter highlighting the terms of the settlement, either can be mailed to or e-filed with the DWC district offices, or you can go in person. The same can be said for all the other types of documents that can be walked through, per CCR Section 10789.
This has the greatest impact in terms of walking through settlements.
Why would you want to physically go to DWC district office to get a settlement approved? The simple answer is speed. It is easily the fastest way to get a settlement before a WCJ and the settlement approved (and yes, possibly suspended if something is out of order). Otherwise, mailing/e-filing settlement documents turns into a waiting game of when the settlement is going to land on a WCJ’s desk for review.
Thus, before you go running off to your local DWC district office to do a walk-through, here are some friendly tips and reminders to help you avoid getting your settlement suspended and/or having to make another trip.
Of course, the above are most applicable to cases where all sides are represented. If you are requesting approval of a pro per applicant’s settlement, then you will need even more documents submitted with the settlement than what is discussed above. While each district office, or each WCJ for that matter, may require different documents in these situations, the following generally are always necessary and should be ready to go:
While we all have grown accustomed to the convenience of handling settlements from the comfort of our office or home, we have to remind ourselves of the intricacies of walking through settlements in person if we want or need a quick turnaround for an approval order.
You do not want to be at court, about to do your walk-through when the light bulb goes off that additional documents should have come along for the ride to help assist the reviewing WCJ to assess the adequacy of the settlement. Err on the side of over-inclusion. The worst-case scenario is that you brought documents with you that you ultimately did not need.
Daniel R. Stevens is a workers’ compensation defense attorney and partner at Bradford & Barthel’s Ventura location. This entry from Bradford & Barthel's blog appears with permission.