For the calendar year 2022, Lancaster County’s three Judges received 1494 assignments for petitions referring to injured Pennsylvania workers. This was an increase over the prior year by 150 assignments. An assignment is when someone (injured worker, Claimant attorney, Insurance attorney or adjuster) files a petition in WCAIS (Pennsylvania’s automated system for work injuries). The petition is received by the Department of Labor and Industry, Bureau of Worker’s Compensation and is assigned to a Judge in the county in which the Claimant resides. The Judge’s office then schedules a hearing for the filed petition(s).
In Lancaster County currently, the three Judges run on a similar format. The first hearing is a pre-trial hearing for the lawyers to virtually attend. At that hearing, the Judge will hear legal arguments, discovery conflicts and issue a trial schedule. In most cases, the trial schedule includes a deposition or hearing of the injured worker to testify within 45 days of the first hearing. Followed by medical testimony by Claimant’s and Employer’s doctors (the order of which is dependent on the type of petition filed) and, if necessary, testimony from the Employer. The Judge will also issue a date for mediation, which is an opportunity to sit down with a different judge for an hour to see the parties can negotiate a settlement. If the case does not settle at mediation, most Lancaster County cases are usually decided by a Judge within 8-11 months of the assignment.
Prior to Covid, all events in the Judge’s trial schedule were done live at the hearing room located at 315 West James Street. However, the pandemic reshaped the way cases are now handled, with most events taking place over Microsoft Teams. There has been recent case law to suggest that if a party wants a live hearing before a Judge, they have the right to request it, and the local Judges are very accommodating.