Fasten your seatbelts and point your GPS towards the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) because in-person walk-throughs are back! By now, we have all heard that the era of Lifesize is over, and in-person walk-throughs are the new (old) normal. While Trials and Expedited Hearings have been in-person for some time, appearing remotely was and still is an available option. Not so with walk-throughs.
As of September 6, 2022, all Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) offices except Eureka not only accept in-person walk-through documents, they require it. As of that date, the DWC no longer accepts virtual walk-throughs in the Lifesize platform.
A Brief History of Walk-Throughs
CCR 10789 governs the procedures for walk-throughs. A “walk-through document,” according to CCR 10305(y), is one presented to a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) for immediate action when no notice of hearing has issued. Parties must follow all provisions of CCR 10789 when presenting at a District Office with a walk-through request.
In March of 2020, the DWC stopped accepting walk-through documents due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only accepting documents via e-filing, JET filing, or by mail. Virtual walk-throughs were introduced in 2021 as part of an expansion of services at district offices. They were conducted via the Lifesize video conferencing platform and limited to settlement documents only.
With pandemic-era restrictions being lifted, the DWC has ended remote walk-throughs, although other conferences appear to be remaining telephonic for now.
Life After Lifesize
Here’s what you need to know about the current incarnation of in-person walk-throughs:
A. Where Can I Do a Walk-Through?
A walk-through can only be acted on by a WCJ in the District Office that has venue. If two or more boards have venue, the walk-through may take place at any board that has venue over an existing case (i.e., one that has been filed and assigned a case number before the walk-through document is filed).
B. When Are Walk-Throughs Allowed?
Since September 6, 2022, walk-throughs are available at each District Office, Monday through Friday, except on holidays when the Division’s offices are closed. The current rule appears to have reverted to the pre-pandemic time windows, but it’s best to check with the individual board for specific limitations on availability. For example, some Boards do not take walk-throughs on Mondays.
Pre-pandemic, CCR 10789(c) required each district office to have a designee of the presiding WCJ available to assign walk-through cases from 8:00-11:00 a.m. and 1:00-4:00 p.m. on court days (CCR 10789(c)).
During COVID-19, that rule was suspended, with each board scheduling time frames as appropriate for their capacity. Judges would prioritize documents assigned on a walk-through basis to account for limited capacity in the offices. Virtual walk-throughs narrowed the window to Monday through Friday, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.
C. Do I Need to File My Documents In Advance?
It’s not completely the same as it was. You can no longer just bring in your documents and expect to be assigned to a judge. The requirement of e-filing your documents through EAMS prior to the appearance is sticking around, in most cases.
Judges have advised that filing walk-through documents in EAMS minimizes their staff’s workflow, and even if a particular judge doesn’t have that requirement, there’s no harm in e-filing in advance.
For settlements without an assigned ADJ number, all documents must be submitted no later than noon of the court day before any action on the walk-through, and must be designated as a walk-through document.
Don’t forget to file any supporting documents that were not previously filed, including Maximum Medical Improvement or medical-legal reports. A proof of service on all other parties listed in EAMS, including co-defendants not participating in the settlement and lien claimants, is also required.
D. If I E-file, Do I Need to Bring a Hard Copy With Me?
It depends. Some judges will still require a paper copy, so it’s advisable to err on the side of caution and be prepared for anything. In addition, you may be asked to fill out a walk-through minutes of hearing form or appearance sheet and/or an EAMS cover sheet and separator. Not every board has these available, so it doesn’t hurt to bring your own.
E. Who Can Act on My Walk-Through?
Any judge, unless a WCJ has already taken testimony in the case or previously reviewed the document and declined to approve it. In either of those events, the same WCJ must act on the walk-through if located at the district office to which the case is assigned, unless the presiding WCJ allows another judge to act on it.
Some boards have processes for assigning the WCJ for your walk-through at random, and some boards only have certain judges available on certain days of the week.
F. Walk-Throughs Aren’t Just for Settlements
While virtual walk-throughs were only for settlement documents, with the return to in-person walk-throughs, don’t forget that other documents can be walked through under CCR 10789. These include Petitions for Labor Code § 5710 attorney’s fees, Petitions to compel attendance at a medical examination or deposition, and Petitions for Costs under rule 10545.
Alternatives to In-Person Walk-Throughs
To avoid the travel time and cost of in-person walk-throughs, remote filing is always available and is often the more cost-beneficial alternative. Parties may still e-file and submit settlement documents to be reviewed and approved by a WCJ without the need for in-person appearances.
When accompanied by a persuasive letter arguing adequacy, e-filing can be just as, or more, effective than an in-person appearance. Depending on the venue, the turnaround time for an e-filed submission can be even faster than an in-person walk-through.
Whichever route you choose, the submission should be specifically tailored to your claim to maximize the chances of success. Albert & Mackenzie regularly helps clients seamlessly navigate the settlement process and has a 93% first-time success rate of approval with e-filed settlements. Our dedicated Walk Through department ensures a thorough and expedited review process before submitting to the Workers’ Compensation Judge for approval. To learn more about how we can help, contact us online or refer a case.