The onset of the covid pandemic disrupted many industries, including the workers’ comp system in Texas. As we have modified our processes during this time, one of the major changes is the effect this has had on Texas workers’ compensation hearings during covid. Injured workers are affected the most by these changes.
How Injured Workers Are Disadvantaged By Texas Workers’ Compensation Hearings During Covid
First, something to be thankful for. You can be thankful that hearings are happening at all. Without the continuation of the hearing process, workers’ comp benefits would grind to a halt. You wouldn’t be able to work out any claim disputes. This would cause a systemwide end to monetary and health care benefits. So let’s be thankful that hearings are being held.
That being said, injured workers are hurt the most by the new way we are doing Texas workers’ compensation hearings during covid. All of our hearings right now, both BRCs and CCHs, are being held over Zoom. Zoom is an audio and video software setup on your computer or smartphone. It’s like a videoconference. It is very similar to Facetime for you iphone users. Before your hearing, you should get an email with a link to the digital hearing conference. As you can guess, there are some problems with this process.
Many injured workers don’t understand the purpose of using zoom rather than just a conference call. Because of that, they log into the hearing and only use the audio option for the hearing. When you do this, you are limiting the information the judge gets to have about your case. Without video, the judge doesn’t get to see your face and connect with you on a more personal level. The judge doesn’t see your expressions and what it looks like when you talk about different things in different ways. This hurts the judge’s ability to develop an opinion about your honesty and truthfulness. Always pick the video option for your Texas workers’ compensation hearings during covid.
Another major problem is the presentation of evidence. You used to be able to just drop by the local Field Office and give customer service any paperwork you wanted them to have. As a lawyer, I could file any paperwork I needed to file live and in person. Today, that is all done digitally. And you know that we all have different technology and different technical abilities. You can imagine how difficult it is to get the right evidence before a judge with these issues.
Interacting With Your Lawyer
When we attended hearings live and in person, you would get to meet the judge. She would get to see you and some of the effects of your injury. Maybe you walk with a limp now, still have to wear a cast or walking boot, or you require the use of a cane. The judge would be able to see all of that. Not now. That doesn’t come across on an audio or video phone call. All the judge sees now is you sitting in front of a camera. This type of presentation causes a loss of most non-verbal clues about you and your injuries.
To me, the biggest problem of all is the space this process puts between you and your workers’ comp attorney. At a hearing, we would meet about 30 minutes early and go over what’s going to happen. That’s not a very viable option anymore. In the hearing, we would sit together and I could kick you when you start to say the wrong thing. I can’t kick you through an iphone screen.
How We Have Adapted To These New Hearing Processes
As lawyers, we are professional communicators. We have to find a way to be effective regardless of the technological problems that have been put in our way. That’s why we make an effort to call you before a hearing to go over the details. If we can’t meet together before the hearing, at least we can talk to each other.
Evidence is important. We make sure to get all of our evidence scanned and put in order way in advance. All of this is transferred digitally to the Division of Workers’ Compensation days before your hearing. This way, the judge has everything all loaded up and ready to go. For testimony, we will work in some extra questions to help show the judge what your functional limitations are. If the judge can’t see you walk with a cane, we can ask the doctor to explain the necessity of a cane in her medical reports. Everything the judge would have been able to see by observing you live and in person, we want to find a way show that in other ways. You can see the challenges of Texas workers’ compensation hearings during covid.
If we need to meet with you live before the hearing, we can get you scheduled for an appointment. Most of the time this isn’t necessary, but sometimes it is. We have a conference room where we can meet with you in compliance with all covid protocols. We even have masks available for you if you don’t have one.
You can come to our office for hearings if you don’t have a computer or smartphone, or don’t understand how to use Zoom. We have a computer available for your use. I probably still can’t kick you from six feet away, but I could at least throw something at you if I needed to! Just kidding.
A Last Request
Please always use the video option when you log into your hearing by Zoom. This will give you the best chance to successfully resolve your dispute. There are rumors that the Division is going to require that soon. Even if they don’t, use it. Create every advantage for yourself that you can. You need them all when you attend a digital Texas workers’ compensation hearing during covid.