When an injured worker files a workers’ compensation case, evidence must be gathered and compiled to support the claim. Discovery is the formal name for the information-gathering process. Administrative rules of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission govern the details of the discovery process. If you receive an injury at work, it’s important to understand the role discovery plays in establishing your workers’ comp claim.
In all types of civil proceedings, including workers’ compensation claims, both sides of the case use the process of discovery to gather and exchange information relating to relevant issues. In a Virginia workers’ compensation case, discovery is part of the pre-hearing procedures established in Rule 1 of the Rules of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission.
Rule 1.8 specifically addresses the scope of discovery as follows:
The scope of discovery shall extend only to matters which are relevant to issues pending before the Commission and which are not privileged. It is not ground for objection that the information sought will be inadmissible at the trial if the information sought appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.
The rule goes on to provide the allowable methods for discovery as including “oral or written deposition, interrogatories to parties, production of documents or things, requests for admission, inspection of premises or other means of inquiry approved by the Commission.” The Commission retains the authority to limit the frequency or extent of discovery that is unreasonably cumulative, duplicative, expensive, or untimely.
Parties can stipulate to other methods of discovery and to the manner of taking depositions. A party may request that the Commission issue subpoenas for witnesses and records. Specific fees and time limits apply to subpoena requests.
Importance of Discovery
Discovery in a Virginia workers’ compensation case is extremely important. For the injured worker, it provides testimony and documentation to support the claim for benefits. Discovery also helps both parties understand each other’s positions and provides the opportunity to examine the opposing party’s evidence. As the evidence-gathering proceeds, discovery often facilitates settlement negotiations, which can lead to a quicker resolution of the claim.
The discovery process encourages parties to communicate and resolve undisputed issues, so the case focuses only on the points of disagreement. If a hearing is necessary, discovery narrows the issues and therefore the time the hearing requires. By avoiding evidentiary surprises, discovery contributes to a smoother, more efficient process, regardless of whether the case settles or goes to a hearing.
Types of Discovery in Virginia Workers’ Compensation
The Commission’s rule addresses details about conducting the permissible types of discovery. These types of discovery all have various rules associated with them to ensure information is obtained legally and within an individual’s rights.
A deposition involves taking testimony of a person, including a party, through oral examination or written questions. Attendance of a witness at a deposition may be compelled by subpoena. Depositions of parties and physicians do not require permission of the Commission, but depositions of other persons do require Commission permission.
Depositions must be taken in compliance with the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia governing civil actions, unless the parties agree to stipulations that provide otherwise. When a party takes depositions in a workers’ comp case, the depositions are filed with the Commission and become part of the record.
Interrogatories to Parties
Interrogatories are written questions submitted by one party to the other party. Sending interrogatories does not require approval of the Commission. If there are objections, and the party serving the interrogatories requests relief from the Commission, the Deputy Commissioner resolves the issue after providing the parties with an opportunity to present their positions in writing. Answers and objections to interrogatories are not filed with the Commission unless they are the subject of a motion.
Request for Admission
A party may serve the opposing party with a written request for admission of the truth of any material matter in the case. A response is required under the Rules. The receiving party may either admit or deny individual requests contained in the request for admission.
Production of Wage Information
In cases where the average weekly wage is contested, the Rule requires the employer to file specific information relating to the injured employee’s wages.
Compliance with Discovery Requests
The discovery rule provides that a party may request that the Commission issue an order to compel discovery. The Commission may issue an order compelling discovery or imposing sanctions in the following situations:
- A deponent fails to appear or testify
- A party fails to respond to interrogatories or a subpoena for documents or other materials
- A party fails to respond to a request for admission
Your Lawyer’s Role in Discovery for Virginia Workers’ Compensation
The workers’ compensation discovery process and rules are one of the most important reasons why you should request assistance from an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer after you receive a work injury. Making and responding to discovery requests requires an understanding of the Commission’s Rules and of the nature of evidence in a legal proceeding. Failure to properly conduct or respond to discovery requests can lead to sanctions or an order requiring you to comply with the rules.
After your injury, you need to focus on your recovery. You should not attempt to navigate the complex rules that apply to making a workers’ comp claim, including the discovery rules, without assistance from legal counsel. Doing so could negatively affect your ability to recover the benefits you deserve.
Schedule a Free Consultation with Our Virginia Workers’ Compensation Attorneys
If you receive an injury on the job, it’s important to ensure that you receive the maximum benefits you are entitled to under the workers’ compensation law. To accomplish that goal, you can count on our experienced Virginia workers’ compensation attorneys to make certain your claim complies with all applicable legal requirements, including those relating to discovery. Our Richmond injury lawyers at Renfro & Renfro are here to help with your claim and work with you closely throughout the entire process. We welcome you to contact us for a free consultation.