When an injured worker in Pennsylvania discovers that it may take a year or more to get a decision in his or her PA workers’ compensation case, the client is often, understandably, distraught. We often explain that our job is to maximize the chances that the case is litigated properly, but we are not able to make it go any faster. This, of course, does not help pay the client’s bills while the litigation continues.
So, we are certainly aware of the hardships that injured workers face while awaiting a decision in their cases. At the same time, we are also aware of what is required in the litigation of a case. In most cases, the injured worker will testify, there will be a deposition from at least one medical expert on each side, and, often, either testimony or a deposition from a fact witness, or a different kind of expert (such as vocational). Once we take all of that evidence, we write briefs (which are anything but “brief”) and then it goes to the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) to await a decision. Depending on the complexity of the case, this can take well over a year to have all of this completed.
We have been told recently by a few WCJs that the PA Bureau of Workers’ Compensation is now quietly insisting that cases be tried, and decided, within a year. They are labelling this new push as the “Rocket Docket.” While this can have some beneficial aspects, by having cases decided sooner, it also carries significant costs, such as the WCJs rushing cases, or by multiple attorneys having to handle a file due to frequent conflicts (less common with a smaller firm like ours, but still a risk).
We hope this push by the Bureau was triggered by concern for the injured worker, and not simply an effort to justify a new expensive computer system (WCAIS). While we would absolutely welcome discussions with the Bureau, and the WCJs, to see how we can make the process faster and more efficient, a blanket rule with limited time is not in anyone’s best interests.