Workers' Compensation - What is a Pretrial Conference?
In Rhode Island, the Pretrial Conference would be your first appearance at the Workers' Compensation Court. To get to a Pretrial Conference, one party (either the employee or the employer) must file a Petition. The Petition could be seeking to establish liability and get your weekly benefits started or it could be seeking approval for an MRI or surgery. Alternatively, it could be seeking a termination or reduction of your weekly check. If you are receiving workers' compensation benefits and you receive a Notice of Pretrial Conference summoning you to attend, you should call an attorney immediately, if you don't have one already. If you do have one, then you should call your attorney to make sure he or she received the Notice. That way you can be sure that your attorney will be there to represent you before the Judge.
At the Pretrial Conference a Judge will listen to arguments from both parties on the Petition that is currently pending. The Judge will also review any relevant documents such as medical records or witness statements. The employee should be prepared to address the Judge in a respectful manner and should be prepared to explain to the Judge what happened and what symptoms are keeping them from working. It is important to note that nothing that happens at the Pretrial Conference is on the record and nothing is entered into evidence. It is an informal Hearing where the Judge can make an initial determination if there is no dispute in the facts or the medical records. If there is a dispute, such as the employer saying that no injury occurred at work, the Judge will usually deny the petition and pass the matter for trial.
At the Pretrial Conference, the judge has the authority to approve or deny the Petition and the losing party has the opportunity file a "Claim for Trial". Until the matter is reached for Trial, the Judge's Pretrial Order will be in effect. So if you are seeking benefits and denied at the Pretrial Conference, you will not receive any benefits until after the Trial when/if the Judge rules in your favor. Therefore it is crucial to obtain a good result at the Pretrial Conference because getting a Trial decision can take months.