The Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWC) will host Mediation Awareness Week, October 8th-12th, 2018, highlighting its court mediation program. During this nationally recognized week long event, each OWC court location will provide awareness and information to familiarize the public about the benefits of mediation.
Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution option available to parties to assist them in settling disputes. This program is a free service offered as an alternative to prolonged litigation by creating an opportunity for parties to discuss disputed issues arising in a workers’ compensation claim. In the program, parties engage in a mediation conference conducted by a neutral person called a mediator. Mediators employed by OWC are licensed attorneys specially trained in resolution techniques and experienced in workers’ compensation law. An OWC mediator is housed in each of the ten OWC district offices located statewide.
Judy Franklin, former OWC mediator and current Second Injury Board attorney, hopes that Mediation Awareness Week will eliminate misconceptions about the role of mediation in the workers’ comp system. “The most common misconception I encountered as an OWC mediator is the assumption that the mediation process does not work,” Franklin said in emailed comments to Louisiana Comp Blog. “The OWC mediation program operates mostly as a voluntary procedure, and many parties request mediation conferences consistently.”
Generally, mediation is a voluntary process, but presiding OWC judges have discretion to order the appearance of litigating parties to a mediation conference. Mediation conferences create informal, convenient and neutral environments where OWC mediators assist parties to identify disputed issues and establish negotiating guidelines to resolve the issues either at the conference or, with encouragement of continued communication, in the future. The strictly confidential setting of a mediation conference allows OWC mediators to focus on any underlying needs and interests of the parties involved. Through the use of joint sessions and separate caucuses, OWC mediators aid parties
in exploring their conflict thoroughly to gain a better understanding of each other’s position. OWC mediators then seek to find mutually acceptable options for resolution. The process affords party participation and ownership in the outcome of the dispute, and it allows each respective party to better weigh the pros and cons of resolving disputed issues before a scheduled trial date. The process also promotes healthy and productive communication between parties fostering better employment relationships. As an impartial during the process, OWC mediators are prohibited from providing legal advice or representing any party as attorneys. They also are not authorized to render a decision on the disputed issues discussed at the mediation conference.
OWC mediators possess an average resolution rate of 90% by promoting discussions that lead to settlements prior trial. The OWC mediation program supports the court system by helping to streamline overloaded and backlogged judicial dockets, making the OWC Court more efficient to parties and saving time and costs. Since its inception, the OWC Court has maintained and funded a court mediation program pursuant to Louisiana Revised Statute 23:1310.3. Participation in the OWC mediation program may occur in lieu of or prior to litigation and does not extinguish any legal rights a party may have under applicable Louisiana workers’ compensation law.
If the disputed issues do not resolve through the mediation process, one of two courses of action may happen:
(1) if the mediation conference was conducted in a case pending in litigation, the matter will proceed to trial before an OWC judge to render a judgment; or
(2) if the mediation conference was conducted prior to or in lieu of litigation, then any party who remains aggrieved may file a Disputed Claim for Compensation (Form LWC-WC-1008) in accordance with applicable Louisiana workers’ compensation law and prescriptive timelines. The case then will proceed to trial before an OWC judge to render a judgment in the matter.
Please feel free to contact any OWC mediator to request a mediation conference or to obtain additional information regarding the OWC mediation program. A list of OWC mediators is provided below for your reference.
Image Credit: LCATE