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A Prehearing Conference (PHC) provides an opportunity for parties to have a prehearing administrative law judge (PALJ) assist them in resolving or simplifying any workers’ compensation issue, including issues set for formal adjudication (hearing) before an administrative law judge (ALJ) in the Office of Administrative Courts (OAC).
Conferences are set at the request of a party, and the judge may order the opposing parties to attend and participate. Upon completion of the PHC the PALJ will enter an order setting forth the parties’ agreements and/or the judge’s determinations. If a party fails to follow the order, the PALJ may order sanctions against that party. The type of sanction depends on the facts of each case.
PALJs also have authority to rule on written motions. Resolving matters through prehearing conferences and written motions reduces the number of issues that require formal adjudication “…to assure the quick and efficient delivery of disability and medical benefits to injured workers at a reasonable cost to employers ….”
PALJs operate under the auspices of the prehearing conference statute and their orders are orders of the Director of Workers’ Compensation and are binding on the parties.
Settlement Conferences are informal meetings between opposing parties to the claim where the parties attempt to reach a mutually agreeable resolution of their dispute. They are not fact finding hearings, and no determination of any issue set for hearing is entered at a settlement conferences. Settlement discussions may take place between the parties themselves, or they may request the assistance of a PALJ. These conferences are voluntary, and are scheduled only when all parties agree to participate. Participants typically include injured workers, attorneys and insurance adjusters.
Uniform Settlement Agreements ("USAs")
Settlements can be made on single or multiple issues, or they can resolve all issues on a “full and final” basis, which means all issues are settled and the case is then closed upon written approval of the settlement terms by the Director or a PALJ. Sometimes the competency of a claimant arises as an issue in a case, where the claimant is a minor or has suffered the loss of mental abilities to manage his or her affairs. In those situations, the parties may need a prehearing conference with a PALJ to determine competency of the claimant before any settlement can be approved.
At any time before a hearing, the parties may agree to submit any workers' compensation dispute to binding arbitration before a PALJ of their choice. When arbitration is conducted by a PALJ, an award is entered that is binding on both sides and cannot be appealed to a higher court.