Workers’ Compensation FAQ Series: Hearings and Award Orders

What is a Workers’ Compensation Hearing?

A workers’ compensation hearing is a legal proceeding before a Deputy Commissioner of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission (the “Commission”).[1] A hearing is similar to a court proceeding. However, it is only necessary if there’s a disagreement between the injured worker and claim administrator about the employee’s right to payments, services, or other benefits.[2] If a hearing is required, it is usually held in the city or county where the accident occurred. The hearing date will be based on the availability of the Deputy Commissioner assigned to your claim. [3]

It is important that you appear for the scheduled hearing. This is because you are considered a party to the case, and all parties and witnesses may testify under oath. In any event, everyone testifying will be subject to questions from all parties, including the Deputy Commissioner. After the hearing, the Deputy Commissioner will decide whether or not the insurance company is required to pay for the particular benefits you’re seeking. The decision is made by written opinion, and issued after the hearing date.

Wooden courtroom gavel

 What is an Award Order?

An Award Order is the “grant or denial of benefits or other relief,” as determined by the Commission in accordance with the Virginia Workers Compensation Act.[4] Award Orders are binding, and “may be recorded, enforced, and satisfied as orders or decrees of a circuit court upon certification . . . by the Commission.” [5] An injured worker must obtain an Award Order in their favor to protect their benefits.

Injured workers often assume that their employer is appropriately handling and filing their workers’ compensation claims. They often believe that their rights are protected because they’ve received medical treatment or wage loss payments from the insurance company. However, the mere payment of medical bills and wage loss does not establish an Award Order with the Commission. In other words, the insurance company may stop disability checks or deny medical treatment at any time before an Award Order is entered. For this reason, it’s incredibly important to accurately complete and file a Claim for Benefits with the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission to begin the process of obtaining an Award Order.

Workers’ compensation laws are very technical, which can create drawbacks. For instance, a Claim for Benefits must be filed within two years of the work accident.[6] Otherwise, your claim will be “forever barred,” and you will not be entitled to payments for medical treatment that would have otherwise been covered by the insurance company.[7] You also will not be able to receive payment for lost wages, even though your injuries were caused by the work accident.

Even when an Award Order has been entered, if it does not include all injured body parts, the workers’ compensation insurance company may avoid payment of medical treatment related to other body parts. Therefore, it is critical to appropriately file a Claim for Benefits to protect your workers’ compensation benefits. To ensure that a Claim for Benefits is properly filed, and an Award Order is issued, you should seek consultation with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney.

 

[1] See Glossary of Workers’ Compensation Terms, Va. Workers’ Compensation Commission, http://www.vwc.state.va.us/sites/default/files/documents/VWC-Glossary-of-Terms_0.pdf (last visited Aug. 5, 2020).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Va. Code. Ann. § 65.2-710.

[5] Id.

[6] Va. Code. Ann. § 65.2-601.

[7] Id.