In a prior article we discussed who can ask you questions at an Ohio workers’ compensation hearing. However, there is more to a BWC hearing than being asked questions – you also have to know how to answer them properly. The testimony you provide may be a general description of how the injury occurred, or could be in response to more pointed questions asked by an attorney. No matter how you are testifying though, you should follow the following ground rules when testifying at workers comp hearings.
I. Be Honest
This piece of advice is the first and last thing I tell all of my clients when preparing for the hearing. Honesty is always the best course of action – even if you think it might not be what the hearing officer wants to hear. I often say “it is what it is”. So if there are harmful facts or information surrounding your claim, you can’t hide them but rather should face them head on.
If you exaggerate or try to hide information, the hearing officer will recognize this and the result will be a hearing officer who doesn’t believe anything you testified to (or at the very least questions it). Some hearings are under oath – which means that not only have you just caused irreparable harm to your reputation with the hearing officer, but you may have also perjured yourself.
II. Don’t Be Afraid to Admit You Cannot Remember
While honesty is extremely important, by the time you get to your hearing it sometimes becomes difficult to remember the exact details and dates involved in your workers’ compensation claim. That is part of human nature and perfectly ok.
Many times clients try to guess an answer when they can’t remember or don’t know, which inevitably causes more harm than good. The opposing attorney can use any incorrect answers you give against you at the next hearing when you attempt to correct yourself. In addition, your guess might actually hurt your case rather than help it.
In instances where you don’t remember something, feel free to state that you do not remember. However, if you have some approximation give that information with the disclaimer of “I’m not sure, but I think …” For instance, say you are asked for a date of a prior accident, but you do not remember. I often urge my clients to come up with some approximation like “I wasn’t married yet, so it was before 2011” or “I remember it was in 2011 but don’t remember the month. It was warm out so it was probably around summer”. Both of these answers give some additional information to try to figure out when it was. If it turns out to be in 2010 or April instead of the middle of summer, you are still relatively close and explained that you were not sure.
III. Keep it Short and Sweet
The last ground for testifying is to never provide more information than what is asked for. Each hearing normally is only scheduled for 15 minutes, so there is a lot of information for everyone to lay out during that time. (Though there are exceptions where additional time is allotted.) If you talk for 10 minutes it does not leave your lawyer much time to address the issue that you are there for.
Many clients have a tendency to provide way more information than a question asks for and in doing so sometimes shoot themselves in the foot by providing information that hurts their case. Even if the information may not be damaging to your case, if your answer is too long and not succinct you run a risk of “losing” the hearing officer and he/she may miss the major point in your testimony.
Your workers’ compensation lawyer should review your testimony with you before any hearing and advise you as to what they think is relevant to your case and what is not. Before the hearing, if your workers’ comp attorney tells you that a piece of information is not relevant to the hearing or may hurt your claim, then you shouldn’t bring that information during the hearing. The only exception to this is that if someone asks you a question about that information (or if an answer would be incomplete if you didn’t mention the irrelevant information) you must be honest.
IV. Remember – Your Attorney is There to Help You
Your workers’ compensation attorney will guide you through the hearing process. He/she should have all of the medical documentation needed to prove your claim and can explain to you the issues – whether legal, factual or medical.
During the hearing, if you forget or don’t know something, your lawyer should be able to provide you with the necessary information to refresh your memory. For instance, I once had a client that through the entire hearing was discussing her right ankle – however, we were there to get her left ankle allowed as a work injury. After her testimony to the hearing officer, I asked her to point to which ankle she injured. When she pointed to her left she immediately realized she had misspoken and clarified that it was her left ankle, not her right.
Of course, if you are awaiting a workers’ compensation hearing and do not have an attorney, now is the time to get one. While you are able to attend a hearing on your own behalf, retaining a lawyer will make sure that someone with the legal knowledge of the system is there for you. Without an attorney injured workers end up with denied claims because they went to hearings on their own and did not know what to expect. Even if everything looks “obvious” to you that it is a work injury, the BWC still requires evidence be provided in a specific format or form, and meet certain standards. A workers’ comp lawyer will make sure that the evidence meets the standards.
Workers’ compensation hearings can be intimidating, but testifying at the hearing is relatively simple as long as you follow these guidelines. If you provide proper testimony and evidence, your claim should be fairly evaluated – and that is really the best situation for everyone.