If you have not been involved with the New York State Workers’ Compensation System, your first impression might be that the process is simple and effective. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
A new project now being called “Streamlined Conciliation Process” severely restricts the injured worker’s right to a fair hearing before a Workers’ Compensation Law Judge. There is nothing, whatsoever, beneficial to the injured worker by instituting such procedures. In fact, the concept of due process whereby a person cannot be deprived of life, liberty, or property without appropriate legal procedures and safeguards, is at direct odds with the Workers’ Compensation Board’s initiative.
The logical conclusion is that the Workers’ Compensation Board does not want the injured worker to be aware of his or her rights and responsibility under the New York State Workers’ Compensation Law. Having practiced law in the Albany/Schenectady/Update New York area for more than 22 years, I have seen first hand the “changes” made by the Workers’ Compensation Board which severely limit the injured workers access to a fair resolution of his or her claim.
The streamline conciliation process includes proposed forms which seem to be aimed at discouraging injured workers from hiring attorneys to represent them in their claims for lost wages and crucial medical treatment. Anyone intimately involved with the Workers’ Compensation system knows that the unrepresented worker has little to no chance of a fair result with his or her case. This seems to be exactly what the Workers’ Compensation Board wants. Certainly, insurance carriers would love to have unrepresented claimants unaware of their rights and/or the complicated litigation process set up to protect those rights.
If the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board was truly interested in protecting the claimant’s rights they would expand access to the hearing process. They would make it easier and quicker to get hearings and they would recommend that an injured worker contact an attorney who is experienced in all facets of the Workers’ Compensation Law. Instead, a simple phone call to the Workers’ Compensation Board inquiring as to whether or not a claimant needs an attorney will almost always yield the same answer, “No”. In reality, almost every injured worker should speak with an attorney and become aware of their rights and responsibilities. Now, more than ever, claimant’s need to know that one of the Workers’ Compensation Board’s top priorities, in our opinion, is to deny the injured worker the right to legal representation. The tenor of many new Board rules, forms, and requirements makes it clear that the goal is to deny representation to those who need it. For example, the proposed form WRFA-1 entitled “Injured Workers’ Request For Assistance” is designed solely for the injured worker who is not represented. This is exactly what the Board wants; uninformed litigants, many of whom have no advanced education, which will accept what they are being told and exit the system quietly without regard to whether they have received proper lost wage payments, appropriate and necessary medical care, and fair settlement of their claim.
If you reside in the Capital Region of Upstate New York, we strongly encourage you to contact our office if you receive any documentation, whatsoever, regarding your claim from the Workers’ Compensation Board. If you are not sure whether or not you need an attorney, ask yourself if you fully understand the process, your rights, and what is going on with your case.