The pandemic has had a significant impact on the workers’ compensation system throughout the country. Two primary examples of the different ways it affected the system include:
Impact #1: Reduction in claims…and claim progression.
Medical professionals and patients had to put many non-emergent medical procedures and physical therapy sessions on hold until after the worst of the pandemic. According to business insurance professionals, these delays essentially halted the progression of claims.
Although many of these procedures are starting to move forward, injured workers needed to reschedule the appointments along with everyone else that had to postpone care. This lead to an additional backlog of cases that were unable to get a worker to their physical end of healing.
Impact #2: Court closures (and re-openings!)
The court system that manages workers’ compensation cases in Wisconsin shut down when COVID-19 hit. It was essentially non-operational from March of 2020 through January of 2021 (with all proceedings transitioned to “settlement” conferences that did not allow for a final judicial decision). As a result, anyone with a work comp case was left in limbo while the nation waited to see when enough progress was made managing the virus to allow the continuation of normal operations.
Things are starting to get back to “normal” now and cases are moving forward. The work comp system adapted and allowed the use of virtual hearings for court proceedings to move cases forward. This allowed injured workers to get a decision on their delayed worker’s compensation case by a judge from a virtual proceeding (like a Zoom call). These proceedings have been hugely beneficial to the system.
Now, certain areas of the state (like Madison and Milwaukee) are beginning to have the ability to litigate claims in-person (with appropriate safety protocols). Whether the case will move forward virtually or in-person is generally at the discretion of the judge but can be impacted by the parties and the type of case. The hope is for the work comp system to strike a balance moving forward–as the virtual hearing option is necessary for many individuals (including out-of-state workers, those with underlying health conditions, or anyone with a health/safety concern).
It is important for cases to move forward throughout the nation, but especially in Wisconsin. Researchers recently reviewed data from the United States Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and report that Wisconsin is one of the top states in the country to report serious workplace injuries. These injures can include bone fractures, amputations, burns, traumatic injuries, and occupational disorders.
Those who suffer these types of injuries while on the job and are looking to move forward with a claim can ease the process by organizing medical records. It is also important to realize that these cases can take some time. It is helpful to mentally prepare for a bit of delay, especially considering the hurdles outlined above.