Your hearing will be conducted by a Workers’ Compensation Judge (judge) appointed and employed by the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). OAH is an independent agency of state government. The judge has not discussed the merits of your case with the parties unless there has been a pretrial conference with all the parties. After the hearing, the judge will weigh the evidence and arguments without any predisposition to accept the position of any party, and will prepare findings of fact, and orders detailing the outcome. The decision of the judge on the issues litigated will be final if there is no timely appeal after the decision is issued. If the case is appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals, new evidence may not be submitted at that time; only arguments concerning the decision already made are permitted as part of the appeal.
PREPARATION FOR THE HEARING
Settlement – In most cases, settlement conferences are scheduled and held before the case is scheduled for a hearing. Even if the case was not settled after a settlement conference, you may continue negotiating with the attorney for the opposing party (or the opposing party if they have not hired an attorney) to attempt to settle the case. A skilled mediator from the Department of Labor & Industry (DLI) may be able to help the parties find a way to settle the dispute. (Call 651-284-5030 or 1-800-DIAL-DLI to request mediation services.) If the case is not settled, you must be prepared to go to hearing.
Witnesses – Bring all witnesses to the hearing that will support your case. If the witness is not willing to come but you believe the testimony is necessary, you may ask OAH for a subpoena that will order the witness to come to the hearing. More information about subpoenas is available on the OAH website at oah.state.mn.us. Click on “Workers’ Compensation” and “Subpoena Powerpoint Presentation”. A party may testify.
Documents – Bring all documents to the hearing that will support your case. Have a copy for the judge and a copy for every other party. The copy you give to the judge will not be returned unless you make a request for it to be returned within 60 days after the decision is issued. If any other party has documents you would like to see, send a written request for the documents well in advance of the hearing to the party who has the documents. If the documents are not provided, you may file a Motion to Compel release of the documents. Motion procedures are contained in Minnesota Rules, part 1420.2250. Links to the workers’ compensation rules (chapters 1415 and 1420) and statutes (chapter 176) are on both the DLI and OAH websites at www.doli.state.mn.us or www.oah.state.mn.us, and at www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us. The judge will issue a decision regarding release of the requested documents. Sometimes the judge will schedule a conference to hear arguments from the parties about whether or not the information should be supplied, and then make a decision.
Communication with the judge – If you must communicate with the judge for any reason prior to the hearing, send a copy of your communication to the other parties, or arrange a telephone conference with the judge and other parties.
Materials – Bring a paper and pen to the hearing to jot down questions that you would like to ask, or to remind yourself of points you would like to make. You may bring water to drink into the courtroom if you wish.
Be on time – Allow sufficient time to locate the building, park, and locate the hearing room. If your hearing is at OAH in St. Paul, the room number for the hearing will be posted in the waiting area near the receptionist. Please enter the hearing room and be seated unless another hearing is underway. Judges ordinarily begin the hearings right on time.
AGENDA FOR THE HEARING
Pre-hearing discussion – Before officially starting the hearing that will be recorded, the judge will usually review with the parties (a) the list of issues to be decided in the hearing, (b) the list of witnesses, and (c) the exhibits that will be presented. Exhibits are marked by the judge at this time. If the parties have reached agreement on some of the issues or facts, those agreements are disclosed for inclusion in the hearing record.
Opening the hearing – The judge will start the hearing by assuring that everyone is introduced and that the participants’ names and addresses are recorded. The judge will explain the procedures that will be followed, and the order of presentation. The judge will indicate the party that has the burden of proving its case. This is usually the employee in a workers’ compensation case.
Opening statement – After the judge has explained the process, each party may make a short opening statement, summarizing what the party’s evidence will show.
Presentation by the initiating party – The judge will determine the order of presentation. Usually, the employee will present his or her case first, calling witnesses and producing the documents to support the employee’s case. You will have the opportunity to testify yourself. The opposing party will have the opportunity to cross-examine you and your witnesses. The opposing party may also object to the documents you present or to the testimony that you or your witnesses offer. The judge will decide which documents will be considered and their importance and also which testimony will be allowed.
Respondent’s presentation – The opposing party will then have the opportunity to call witnesses and introduce documents to support its case. You have the opportunity to cross-examine the opposing party’s witnesses and object to documents presented.
Closing argument – Each party may make a short closing statement, summarizing how the evidence supports the party’s case. Sometimes closing arguments are submitted in writing after the hearing has ended.
Purpose of the hearing – The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether the benefits or services sought are due, or whether the action requested is warranted (such as whether benefits may be discontinued, or whether a rehabilitation plan may be terminated). The judge will state the issues for the hearing at the beginning of the hearing. The evidence must be reasonably related to the issues.
Rules of procedure – There are many sets of workers’ compensation rules. The rules governing litigation procedures are set forth in Minnesota Rules, chapters 1415 and 1420. See especially Minn. R. 1420.2900 Hearing. The rules are available from the Minnesota Bookstore (Metro: 651-297-3000; Toll Free: 1-800-657-3757) and at www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us, or http://mn.gov/oah/
Recording the hearing – The hearing will be recorded digitally or by a court reporter. Any party may request that a transcript be prepared or that a copy of the digital recording be made. There is a charge for these services.
Creating a proper record – To assure that the record is complete and accurate, the witnesses must observe the following rules: (a) only one person may speak at a time; (b) all answers must be spoken out loud (the recording cannot record gestures or the nodding of the head); (c) technical terms and proper names must be spelled; (d) yes or no answers are clearer in the record instead of uh-huh or um-hmm or the like.
Civility to other participants – An administrative hearing is slightly less formal than a court trial, and the rules of evidence are sometimes more lenient. However, the participants are expected to treat each other cordially, and with due respect for the seriousness of the proceeding.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: An Introduction to Workers’ Compensation Proceedings is available on our website at www.oah.state.mn.us. You will also find additional information about subpoenas and How to Be a Good Witness. If you still have questions after reviewing the information, please call 651-361-7900 and ask to speak to a workers’ compensation staff attorney. A staff attorney can answer general questions about procedure, but they cannot provide you with legal advice.
Need an attorney? Although you are not required to have an attorney, you may want to ask an attorney about the law that governs your case, or for assistance preparing your testimony and exhibits for hearing. Resources for locating an attorney may be accessed by calling 1-800-292-4152, or by checking www.mnfindalawyer.com. Your county may also have an attorney referral service.