On November 9, 2006, the most recent amendment to the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, known as Act 147 of 2006, was signed into law. Several of the provisions of Act 147 were designed to quicken the litigation process in PA workers’ comp. One of those provisions created what is known as “Mandatory Mediation.”
Mediation, generally speaking, is a process where an independent person meets with the parties to a dispute and helps the parties reach a resolution to their quarrel. This is a process used in all types of litigation, and even in disputes outside of litigation. Usually, this is a very informal process. The mediator will meet with the parties separate and together, working to try and bring them together on common ground. There is no court reporter present, and things said in mediation are not admissible in the litigation (encouraging the parties to be honest about the strengths and weaknesses of their position).
Mediation has been used in Pennsylvania workers’ compensation matters as long as I can recall. In the past, mediation only happened in PA workers’ comp when the parties so requested. The process was entirely voluntary, and did not occur that often.
Act 147 made mediation mandatory, in every case, unless the Workers’ Compensation Judge felt that mediation would be futile. As a result, we are seeing much more mediation in Pennsylvania workers’ comp than in years past. In turn, the increased mediation seems to have led to workers’ compensation settlements becoming more frequent in PA.
Mandatory mediation is not binding. That means that if a settlement cannot be agreed upon by all parties, then there is no settlement. Usually, there is little to lose by engaging in mediation. If a settlement cannot be reached, nothing is lost other than the time spent by the parties (and even then, some issues in the litigation may get resolved, narrowing the disputes which remain).
As with Act 147 generally, mandatory mediation appears to be a beneficial change to the PA Workers’ Compensation Act for the injured worker. I am proud to have participated in meetings working on this litigation, with the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association (now known as Pennsylvania Association for Justice). As a PA workers’ comp attorney, I salute the hard work of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice in having such fair legislation passed.