Although it may be difficult to believe, there is a definite home-field advantage in workers’ compensation when it comes to litigating claims at certain Appeals Board district offices. When a judge interacts with a particular attorney every day, there is a natural tendency to favor a familiar face over an attorney who is a stranger, appearing only once. In addition, the local attorney is familiar with particular judicial nuances as opposed to a visiting attorney who knows nothing about the judge. These are just some of the perks one enjoys when having home field advantage at the WCAB.
Every claims office can identify at least a dozen files where the injured worker is represented by an attorney whose office is located beyond the local venue. It is not uncommon for applicants to retain attorneys in other parts of the state, sometimes hundreds of miles away. To complicate matters, the labor code allows venue to be established at the Board located in the county of applicant attorney’s principal place of business. However, the labor code also grants the employer the right to object within 30 days to have the case transferred to a different venue located in the county of either the applicant’s current residence or place of industrial injury. As a legal strategy, we recommend that an employer always file a timely objection whenever venue is assigned solely based on applicant attorney’s principal place of business. Take away the attorney’s home-field advantage by transferring venue to your local Board. Make applicant attorney the visitor, where he is unfamiliar with judges and vice versa. Reclaiming proper venue also cuts down on needless Board appearances since applicant attorneys are often reluctant to travel long distances over minor issues.
Let’s quickly review the law concerning venue. Labor Code §5501.5 is the controlling statute. Subsection (a) allows the application for adjudication to be filed at:
(1) In the county where the injured employee or dependent of a deceased employee resides on the date of filing.
(2) In the county where the injury allegedly occurred, or, in cumulative trauma and industrial disease claims, where the last alleged injurious exposure occurred.
(3) In the county where the employee’s attorney maintains his or her principal place of business, if the employee is represented by an attorney.
However, subsection (c) is where an employer regains the advantage. It states:
(c) If the venue site where the application is to be filed is the county where the employee s attorney maintains his or her principal place of business, the attorney for the employee shall indicate that venue site when forwarding the information request form required by Section 5401.5. The employer shall have 30 days from receipt of the information request form to object to the selected venue site. Where there is an employer objection to a venue site under paragraph (3) of subdivision (a), then the application shall be filed pursuant to either paragraph (1) or (2) of subdivision (a).
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