More Details Emerge on Workers’ Compensation Court Reopenings in PA and NJ
Although both Pennsylvania and New Jersey have recently loosened their COVID-19 restrictions, the states are taking slightly different paths toward opening their workers’ compensation courts. Courts are continuing to take tentative steps towards full normalization of in-person hearings and other events.
In Pennsylvania, Director Joseph DeRita issued updated guidance on March 2, 2022. That guidance document confirmed that masks are encouraged but no longer required in Commonwealth buildings. The decision to hold in person events such as hearings with testimony or mediations was left largely up to the individual Judge’s discretion. Non-testimonial hearings are encouraged to continue to be held via video conference.
However, where testimony on a contested matter is expected, Judges will have discretion to schedule an in-person hearing where all parties are expected to attend. Parties that object to the decision of the Judge can submit a miscellaneous request via WCAIS stating their reasons for desiring a different form of hearing, either in person or remote. Mediations may also be scheduled in-person at the discretion of the Judge.
In New Jersey, Director and Chief Judge Russell Wojtenko, Jr. issued a memorandum on February 14, 2022 allowing greater leeway in holding in-person hearings at the discretion of individual workers’ compensation Judges. Several Judges have issued their own memorandums outlining their expectations going forward. Most of the Judges in New Jersey who have made their views known have now moved to the default of holding all testimonial hearings in person. This includes settlement hearings, which had typically been done via an affidavit of the Petitioner in lieu of live testimony during the pandemic. This is no longer the default and the courts have gone back the pre-pandemic norm of requiring live testimony and only allowing settlement via affidavit upon a showing of good cause.
As there is a great deal of discretion allowed for in both States’ rules, the transition to regular live hearings may take some time. German Gallagher & Murtagh attorneys expect to move forward with more in-person hearings in the coming months, especially where witness credibility is at stake. Routine and unopposed hearings will likely continue to be held remotely for the next several months. Changes to court procedures are fast-moving and GGM will work to keep clients and the public updated on changes that occur.