A new study known as the “Workers’ Perspective on Settlements and Hearings” has shed some light on how claimants view the workers’ compensation process in Minnesota.
To narrow their study, researchers focused on individuals who settled their claim outside of the courtroom. Their goal was “to ensure voluntary settlements are in the workers’ best interests.”
In order to complete their study, researchers mailed out a questionnaire to workers’ compensation claimants in Minnesota. The questionnaire asked respondents numerous questions in regards to their claim in order to determine:
- Whether a claimant felt like they voluntarily settled their claim;
- If they felt pressure to settle;
- How informed they felt about their claim, dispute, or settlement;
- Their overall experience with the work comp process.
After analyzing the completed questionnaires, researchers were able to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of the system. Below are some of the findings.
- Claimants said their attorney was the most frequent source of pressure to settle.
- Only half of the respondents who settled said they “substantially understood” the benefits involved in their claim, while one-third said they had “little or no understanding of their agreement.”
- Only 29 percent of individuals who settled said they would settle again if they had the chance to “do things over”.
- 19 percent said their attorney failed to explain they had the choice to go to a hearing.
- 21 percent of individuals who compromise-settled said they received “a fair compromise”, while 50 percent of claimants responded that the judge’s ruling was fair.
Although the data appears to show that many claimants feel they did not receive all the benefits they had hoped for, the study is also a prime example of the “grass is always greener on the other side” mentality. Ben Heimerl, a workers’ compensation attorney, explains how the data can be manipulated.
“This study as read does not provide enough information to make a determination one way or another,” said Heimerl. “For example, half of the people who went to the hearing said they were happy with the results. Were those the half that won their case? Did anyone lose their case and state they were happy with the results? If only half of the cases that go to court are successful, maybe settlement is a good idea in many cases. That also provides a logical reason why claimants said their attorney provided them with the most pressure to settle. A sure settlement is better than going to court and losing, so the attorney is using his or her professional knowledge to advise you in your best interests.
Heimerl added that although it appears many people would like a “do-over”, they could end up worse off by going to court and losing.
“Only 29 percent of people who settled said if they had a chance to do it over again, they would,” said Heimerl. “If they knew they only had a fifty-fifty chance of winning, would they settle? Is the money they received better than losing and getting nothing?
While it’s rarely this simplistic, imagine you were hurt at work and you filed a claim seeking damages in the amount of $5,000. In lieu of going to court, the insurance company offers you $3,000 to settle your case out of court. You could take the $3,000, or basically flip a coin for a chance at $5,000 or nothing. Even if you win your case in court, the process will drag on longer, which could cost you more time and money.
Heimerl said this study had few worthwhile findings because attempted to lump each individual case into one simplified study.
“My point is not that these studies are not helpful, but they need to be put in context, and the context is not provided here. Every case is unique and must be treated as such,” said Heimerl. “One important thing to take away form this study is that attorneys absolutely need to explain settlements to their clients, as well as the risks and rewards of going to trial. Communication is the key to a successful outcome.