|Post by Anne Marie Hempy|
This week, the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission hosted a roundtable discussion to address the new changes to the informal conference system. Pursuant to Reg. § 67-202, “an informal conference is a meeting with the claimant, the employer’s representative and a Commissioner or claims mediator.” The purpose of the informal conference is to review a proposed Form 16 or Form 16-A settlement. In the past, a Deputy Commissioner appeared on behalf of the Commission, reviewed the ratings assigned by the treating provider, analyzed any work restrictions and questioned the pro se claimant about any continued complaints of pain. The Deputy Commissioner then suggested an award, opining what he or she felt would constitute a fair settlement based on the evidence presented. The adjuster and claimant could either agree to the valuation or decline settlement and proceed to a hearing.
How will the process change? From now on, the informal conference will work more like a mediation. The employer’s representative/adjuster is charged with making an initial offer to the claimant. The Deputy Commissioner will no longer make a suggestion as to the value of the claim. Like a true mediation, the Deputy Commissioner’s purpose will be to facilitate discussions about settlement. If the parties are able to reach an agreement, the Deputy Commissioner will sign the Form 16 or Form 16-A. If not, as in the past, the Commission will schedule the claim for hearing.
Practice Point: An adjuster or other representative attending the hearing on behalf of the employer needs to come prepared to the informal conference with appropriate settlement authority and with evidence to support the employer’s position. For instance, if the medical records indicate the claimant is a malingerer or has not been compliant with recommended treatment, the adjuster needs to bring those records to the informal conference and show the records to the Deputy Commissioner (and claimant) during the discussion of the case. Surgical notes, treatment records, personnel documents and any other evidence to support the rationale behind the employer’s valuation should be available for review at the conference.
Here is a schedule from the Commission’s website of upcoming informal conferences. http://www.wcc.sc.gov/Documents/Judicial/2011Dec%20IC%20schedule.pdf.