In workers’ compensation cases in North Carolina, after a hearing has been requested the Industrial Commission automatically orders the parties to hold a mediated settlement conference. If the parties agree that mediation will be a waste of everyone’s time, the Industrial Commission will normally allow the parties to skip mediation and go directly to the hearing docket.
However, our experience has been that cases settle in the mediation conference approximately 75% of the time. For that reason we generally recommend to our clients that we go forward with mediation. Even if we do not get the case settled, we often get a better idea of the other side’s view of the case and that is helpful if we proceed to a hearing.
A mediated settlement conference occurs when the injured worker and his North Carolina Workers’ Compensation lawyer meet with the defense lawyer and the insurance adjuster, and sometimes a representative of the employer, with a third person acting at the “Mediator." The Mediator is an impartial third party, usually a lawyer, who has received special training as a mediator. The Mediator does not take sides in the dispute but facilitates a settlement discussion and helps the parties work through their difference. The goal is to find common ground so that the issues in dispute can be resolved without the need for further court involvement.
Ordinarily, the mediation conference will begin with a 15 or 20 minute introduction by the Mediator. The Mediator will explain to all persons present the process of mediation. Then, the Plaintiff/Employee’s lawyer will give an oral presentation regarding the injured worker’s case. Next, the defense lawyer will state the Defendants’ position. At that point, sometimes a discussion is held to determine what facts are in dispute and what facts are agreed upon, and an initial agreement is often made as to the common points. Then, the two sides are split up and placed in separate rooms, and the Mediator goes back and forth between them until either a settlement is reached or it is obvious that a settlement will not be reached, which is known as an “impasse." Only the mediator can terminate the mediation by declaring an impasse.
The injured workers’ presence is required at the mediation. The process generally takes three to six hours so a person needs to make arrangements to take the necessary time off from work and any necessary child care arrangements. It is not appropriate to bring children to the mediation. A spouse or another family member can come with you to the mediation, if you don not mind that person hearing confidential information. Your attorney will usually want to meet with you prior to the mediation to discuss last minute issues and iron out the initial position you wish to present. Any questions about mediation can usually be answered by your North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyer.