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How Does the Rhode Island Workers’ Compensation Court Work?
The Rhode Island Workers’ Compensation Court was created by the General Assembly to improve the state’s overall compensation system. The Workers’ Compensation Court’s primary function is to deal with disputes that may arise between employees and employers over a staffer’s remuneration.
Employee claims for persons injured at work are also handled by the Rhode Island Workers’ Compensation Court. These financial claims may include medical expenses to treat the injury or lost wages resulting from any absence caused by the injury.
The Rhode Island Workers’ Compensation Act established the Workers’ Compensation Court, which has jurisdiction over civil matters regarding workers’ payments in the state. The court seeks to protect the rights of workers by awarding financial compensation in cases with proven merit.
Apart from employee disputes, the Workers’ Compensation Court also handles disagreements between compensation insurers and employers.
Rhode Island employers that have at least one employee are required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance plans. All covered employees may petition the Workers’ Compensation Court to seek financial claims for worthy reasons. However, note that the following employees are not covered:
- Sole proprietors
- Agricultural and domestic service employees
- Domestic workers
- Casual employees
- Salespersons or appraisers who earn on commission
- Volunteer or charitable workers
- School district employees
Furthermore, the Workers’ Compensation Court may not cater to several federal employees, firefighters, and police officers. However, these persons may be able to obtain some relief from other compensation programs. Also, the court does not cover independent contractors.
Aggrieved employees may petition the Workers’ Compensation Court over any disagreements or personal injury sustained on the job. According to Section 28–29–3 of the Rhode Island Statutes, the employer may not use any of the following in defense:
- The employee’s negligence caused the employee’s injury
- The negligence of a fellow employee caused the employee’s injury
- The employee has assumed the risk of injury
After receiving a petition from an aggrieved employee, the Rhode Island Workers’ Compensation Court must conduct a pretrial conference within 21 days from the date the employee filed the petition. The court’s primary reason for the pretrial conference is to try a mediation aimed at an amicable resolution of the dispute. If an amicable resolution fails, the judge in charge of the pretrial conference will enter an order on the matter. Any party who finds the order unfavorable may file an appeal, which will lead to a trial. Although the order may be appealed, it is effective as soon as it is entered. Note that both parties must carry out the terms of the order even while the trial continues.
Parties must file an appeal within five days from the date the judge enters the order. After the filing, the judge will set a date for an initial hearing.
Usually, the Workers’ Compensation Court uses the initial hearing to reduce disputed facts as much as possible. The initial hearing is also used to set the trial’s pace and confirm other matters such as the length of time for each testimony and the expected witnesses’ names. The initial hearing generally helps the court schedule the issues and run the trial as seamlessly as possible, with minimal case continuances.
During a trial, the court exhausts all the petitions’ points and conducts a full evidentiary hearing. A Workers’ Compensation Court trial is a matter of record and follows the Rhode Island Rules of Evidence. After all arguments, the trial judge will make a ruling considering all the issues raised.
Sometimes, the trial judge’s ruling is not the end of the case. The Workers’ Compensation Court operates an Appellate Division that receives appeals from parties dissatisfied with the trial judge’s ruling. An aggrieved party may file a claim of appeal with the court to begin the process. The claim of appeal must include a request for a transcript of the testimony and the case ruling. Note that the appellant must also serve a copy of the claim of appeal to parties related to the case. The claim of appeal served to related parties must show all amounts, dates, and times as stated in the original claim.
The Workers’ Compensation Court comprises one chief judge and nine associate judges. After receiving an appeal, the chief judge of the court must appoint an appellate panel to decide on the appeal. The entire Appellate Division, along with the appellate panel members, reviews the record of proceedings, including all the information provided on the claim of appeal. However, note that the Appellate Division will prioritize all findings of facts initially presented at the trial level. The Appellate Division may only review these facts if there is proof that the trial judge’s findings were flawed. After straightening all findings, the Appellate Division may issue a decision and decree that may reverse, alter, or confirm the trial court’s initial order.
Note that aggrieved parties may appeal Appellate Division rulings to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. However, the aggrieved party must petition the Rhode Island Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, to straighten any errors claimed. The petition for a writ of certiorari must be filed within 20 days from the date of the Appellate Division’s final decree.
Because the facts and evidence available with these cases may differ, the length of time required may vary. However, over 70% of all cases heard at the Rhode Island Workers’ Compensation Court are resolved within one month.
Persons interested in contacting the Workers’ Compensation Court may do so using the details below:
J. Joseph Garrahy Judicial Complex
1 Dorrance Plaza
Providence, RI 02903
Phone: (401) 458–5000
Fax: (401) 222–3121
TTY: (401) 458–5275
The Rhode Island Workers’ Compensation Court provides public access to case information. Interested persons may visit the above address to use one of the computer terminals available in the clerk’s office.
The Rhode Island Judiciary also provides remote access to case information. However, confidential documents may only be available to parties to a case and self-presented litigants. To register for remote access, interested persons should contact the Judicial Technology Center (JTC) by email. Note that requestors must attach a request form and signed agreement to the email.