There are two types of workers’ compensation hearing in Ohio. Since employers and the workers’ comp program itself are looking for reasons to deny claims, injured and ill employees need to know what to expect when going before the workers’ compensation hearing of Ohio and, when necessary, in front of a judge.

Industrial Commission Hearings

The IC handles the first three rounds of appeals of decisions on applications for workers’ comp benefits. An applicant or the applicant’s employer can file an appeal at any of the levels, but the burden to prove that benefits should be awarded generally falls on the injured or ill worker. Importantly, an applicant has the undeniable right to seek advice and representation from an experienced workers’ compensation attorney at each stage of the application and appeals process.

First Appeal

A district hearing officer, or DHO, presides over the first appeal hearing, which is held within 45 days of the date on which a request for a hearing was received. This session usually occurs in a Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) office, and it generally lasts no longer than 15 minutes. The applicant and the employer—or, in most cases, their lawyers—quickly present their strongest evidence, and the DHO issues a decision a few weeks later. An applicant who has hired an attorney does not need to appear before the DHO or at the second appeal hearing with the IC.

Second Appeal

A staff hearing officer (SHO) handles the next level of appeal. This hearing follows essentially the same script as the first one, and the SHO has the authority to consider every piece of evidence as if the hearing before the DHO never happened.

During each round of appeals, the applicant and his or her workers’ comp attorney can introduce new evidence. This may include medical records that were identified as missing or incomplete at earlier stages and testimony from co-workers, other witnesses, and experts such as vocational expert who offer assessments of an applicant’s ability to return to his or her previous job.

Third Appeal

A panel of IC commissioners hears the final administrative appeal. This will feel more like a trial than the DHO or SHO hearings, but the presentations will, again, stick mostly to the facts of the case and the applicant will not be expected to testify if he or she has a lawyer.

Court Hearings

The BWC considers an IC panel’s decision the final word on a workers’ comp application, but the applicant has the right to file a legal appeal in state court. There are, again, three levels of appeal, with a case moving from the Court of Common Pleas to an appellate court and, last, the Supreme Court of Ohio.

Most cases that go to a lawsuit do not progress past the Common Pleas level. The hearing there does not differ much from a civil lawsuit, except that a judge, rather than a jury, will make the ruling.

The applicant must be prepared to testify and respond to questions from the opposing lawyer. The time in court generally lasts less than a full workday, but the pretrial period can drag out for months. While preparing to appear before the judge, the person applying for workers’ comp benefit should work closely with his or her attorney to collect, organize, and review medical records, therapists’ notes, assessments from vocational experts, and old pay stubs to document lost wages. This is also the time to identify and depose witnesses from both sides.

While on the witness stand, the injured or ill worker should be ready to

  • Describe how the injury occurred or how the illness developed;
  • Discuss medical treatments, therapy sessions, and the physical and emotional effects of the injury or illness;
  • Describe in detail the work done before the injury or illness; and
  • Discuss his or her successful or unsuccessful return to work.

After the trial, the judge will issue a written decision and mail it to both sides. This can take up to three months. Between the end of the trial and the issuance of the decision, the applicant’s attorney may be asked to submit one or more written briefs. The applicant may be asked to provide statements or supporting materials for the briefs.

Appeals of the judge’s ruling mostly involve paperwork. Testimony will be limited, but locating additional records may be necessary.

An Ohio workers’ compensation attorney with Agee Clymer Mitchell & Portman may be able to help you with your application or appeal. Schedule a free consultation online or set up an appointment by calling (614) 221-3318 or (800) 678-3318.