When both Claimants and E/C’s are forced to litigate their disputes on the “rocket docket”–or 210 days from the date of Petition to trial–there has to be mutual cooperation between the parties to accommodate discovery.  If there can be no cooperation, for whatever reason, it is the Judge of Compensation Claims duty to weigh the interests of a quick resolution versus due process.

In a recent case, the First DCA leaned towards due process, allowing a Claimant to present a doctor’s testimony whose deposition may have (or not) violated a discovery order.

In Burgess v. Buckhead Beef, the JCC set a trial date just 30 days after mediation.  To schedule the necessary doctor deposition in just 30 days would defy the laws of time. . . and space.   There is no doctor I know of who can make himself available for deposition in less than 30 days.  The fact that the 30 days covered the Christmas and New Years holidays, getting the task would be the equivalent of getting an elephant on the of a pin.

Since Claimant could not get the E/C’s attorney to set depositions dates, he was forced to set the depos unilaterally and ultimately ask the JCC for a continuance.  I assume that the JCC issued a pre-trial order preventing the parties from setting discovery 30 days before trial, the JCC denied Claimant’s motion to continue and quashed his unilaterally set depos.   Thus, Claimant had no medical evidence to present at final hearing to prove his case.

Now Claimant had time before the mediation to set his depos, but for a Judge to give only 30 days after mediation and then deny any avenue for the party to present their case (or defense) is ridiculous.   While the 210 requirement is necessary to insure a Claimant knows whether she has the right to benefits quickly, it should not be used so dogmatically to deny due process.   The First DCA rightfully determined that the exclusion of evidence should only be in the rare situation where allowing it in would result in procedural prejudice to the opposing party.

As an attorney for Employers and Carriers, I too have been crunched by the rocket docket.  I advise my clients to forward the file materials to me as earlier as possible and not wait until mediation.  Even if there is no pending Petition for Benefits, I recommend forwarding a file to an attorney if litigation is imminent.  Part of assessing exposure for an attorney is collecting and scheduling the appropriate discovery dates to develop a sound defense for the E/C.

The good news is that should an E/C–or any party for that matter–get time crunched, it is likely they would (or should) get a reprieve from the JCC if the crunch is no fault of the E/C and not prejudicial to Claimant.

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