After closing its doors to in-person hearings on March 16, 2020, the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission has seen a backlog of cases. On June 6, 2020, the Commission resumed in-person hearings while continuing to allow the option for virtual hearings, which began in May. What can you expect from these hearings?
New Shared Requirements:
- All exhibits must be electronically submitted three days prior to a hearing. Most Commissioners appear to have reviewed all exhibits before the proceedings, which may allow for a more streamlined hearing where the Commissioner likely has an idea of the basic facts of the dispute beforehand.
- Claimant’s Counsel must also submit fee petitions electronically, which requires their client’s signatures before the hearing. We may see more delayed attorney’s fee awards as a result.
- Impeachment evidence cannot be physically submitted but must be immediately available to all parties and may be formally submitted after the hearing.
- Stipulations, settlements, withdrawn issues, or other preliminary matters can be emailed to the Commissioner’s assistant instead of taking up a hearing slot or requiring any physical attendance.
- These hearings are conducted through the Microsoft Teams software and require all parties have video, but those without audio capacity can call in using a telephone. Some Commissioners have set up the hearings so all parties may see everyone at the same time, while others have limited the screen so that all parties, other than the Commissioner, may see the Claimant only.
- No one may force any claim into a virtual hearing as they require the consent of all parties to schedule.
- There remain some questions as to how to use impeachment evidence with these hearings, which may make these virtual hearings less advisable for more complex claims.
In-person hearings are not yet back to business as usual:
- Each hearing is hand-set by the Commission to provide a time for each claim to proceed. You may not enter the hearing site until five to ten minutes before the scheduled time.
- Each person is asked to fill out screening questionnaires, provide contact information for contact tracing, and have his/her temperature taken by contactless thermometer before entering the hearing room.
- Each person must wear a mask and maintain social distancing of at least six feet. The hearing rooms have been spread apart to allow this distance, with the claimant sitting in a chair alone in the middle of the room.
- Parties are encouraged to bring only those people absolutely necessary for a hearing to minimize the number of people in any room at one time.
- After the hearing, all parties are required to immediately leave the premises. As a result, you will only see the people involved in the hearings immediately before and after your hearing, eliminating the ability to follow up on intractable cases in person.
Written by associate April Kerns.