Why Do Workers Comp Cases Take So Long In Pennsylvania?
Comp cases take a long time in Pennsylvania. If the employer denies your claim, the case will take about one year to get a decision from the Judge. I know, I know, its a very long time. But let me explain why it takes so long.
First, I have to file a petition. I file most petitions online with the Bureau of Workers Compensation. When a petition is filed with the Bureau it takes about 3 weeks to have it assigned to a Judge. So right off the bat there is a 3 week wait for a Judge to get the file and hold a hearing. And the Judges in Pennsylvania do a fantastic job of getting you a quick hearing date. The Judge has no idea what your case is about. S/he needs to have a hearing to get some idea about your case. That is the first hearing. Under the rules that have been set up by the Bureau, the claimant has 90 days after the first hearing to schedule the medical deposition of a doctor who will say that you were injured, what the injury was, and that you are unable to work (or only work light duty). So we have to call the doctor's office, pay the doctor about $2500 or more to get a date for a deposition. Doctor's are busy and there is usually a delay in getting a date for the deposition. Most of the time I am able to get a date from a doctor within 2 months after the first hearing.
In the meantime, the employer has a right to get you examined by a doctor (usually within 45 days of the first hearing). And then they have 90 days after your doctor's deposition to take the deposition of the employer's doctor. So you can see that after the petition is filed, you have almost one month before the first hearing, 90 days after that for claimant's doctor's deposition, and then 90 days after that for the employer's. So its just about 7 months after the petition is filed until the doctor's depositions are completed (assuming that the doctor's don't cancel, no one dies, no one has a baby, and everything goes as planned.)
Then, the Judge schedules a final hearing for the testimony from the witnesses. In Northeast Pa. where I practice there might be a hearing within that 7 month period, and then the Judge will schedule a final hearing, usually about 9 months after the first hearing. Assuming there are no "surprises" such as old injuries that have popped up, or attempts to return to work, then the evidence is closed and the parties get the right to file "briefs" summarizing the case. Most of the time the Judges ask for briefs in 30 or 60 days. So that brings us to 10 months or 11 months out from the first hearing. And if you are lucky, and the Judge is not getting slammed by other cases, you get a decision within 1 to 3 months.
So that is why it takes about one year to litigate a workers compensation case in Pennsylvania.
Now lots can happen. You might return to work, you might settle the case, you might run away and join the circus. But know going into it that it will take a long time to get benefits in a contested case. And know that if you do start to get benefits, it takes just as long for the employer to get you off of benefits. So you can take some consulation in that fact.