Under Florida's workers’ compensation laws, injured individuals and their employers' insurance company must attend mediation prior to going to trial. Mediation is an opportunity for the parties to get together and discuss the case in an informal setting. The purpose is to help expedite settlement disputes so an employee can receive benefits he's entitled to without needing the case decided at a trial.
Issues can range from simple items such as an unpaid medical bill to complex issues of long-term medical and work loss benefits. In most instances, insurance carriers come to mediation with the hopes of reaching a settlement of the entire workers' compensation case.
What Happens in a Workers’ Compensation Mediation Conference?
Under Florida’s workers’ compensation laws, the mediation must occur within 120 days after a Petition for Benefits is filed. There's no cost for the mediation if it's held at the State Board of Workers’ Compensation with a State Board mediator. If parties are in agreement, a private mediator can be substituted and in these cases, it's a common practice for the workers' compensation insurance company to pay for the mediator’s services.
The parties' lawyers, the injured worker, and a mediator attend the mediation hearing. In some cases, the insurance adjuster for the case is also present or available by phone. Here’s what happens at the conference:
- At the beginning of the session, the parties and their attorneys meet in the same room with the mediator. The lawyers have the opportunity to make an opening statement outlining their positions on the employee’s injuries, treatments to date, permanent impairment, and his or her ability to return to any job in the future.
- After these statements, the injured worker and his attorney go into a separate room to meet with the mediator privately. The mediator goes back and forth between the parties in an attempt to help them reach a compromise.
- The mediator can help identify issues, develop bargaining positions, and convey settlement offers between the parties. However, he doesn't represent either party, make decisions for them, or order the case be settled in a certain way.
- If an agreement is reached through the meeting, the mediator drafts a memorandum of understanding that's approved by the parties and their lawyers. Often the attorneys draft a Settlement Agreement that's signed by both of them and filed with the court.
It's important to retain an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to attend a mediation conference with you to present a compelling opening statement and to protect your rights to benefits throughout the negotiations. To learn how our skilled legal team can help you, call our office today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.