Legislation being hailed for allowing faster workers’ compensation claims settlements was signed into law last week by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf. It changes the requirements regarding the signing of legal paperwork for those workers eligible for a C&R – a Compromise and Release settlement. Currently, workers eligible for a C&R must have two witnesses see them sign the legal paperwork or have it signed before a notary. The new legislation, authored by Rep. Rich Irvin, eliminates that requirement.

You’d better stand back. We have no idea how fast things will happen now.

Support for the legislation appears to be rooted in the fact that injured workers are still required to be sworn in to testify that they understand the full legal significance of the agreement before a judge. The need for signature witnesses or a notary appears to have been a redundancy. Representative Irvin said of his bill, “My legislation changes the current law to allow for a claimant to, instead, when appearing before a workers’ compensation judge, provide sworn testimony that he or she fully understands the agreement in place of having the agreement signed in front of two witnesses or a notary. This is a small but significant change that will greatly improve the process for many individuals seeking compensation claim adjudication. 

Far be it for me to criticize any effort to simplify workers’ comp, but was this the biggest roadblock in the process? I understand that it can be an inconvenience to get two friends to act as witnesses – unless, of course, you promise them a ride on that new bass boat you’re going to buy when you completely misspend your self-administered MSA money – but it does seem a minor point. I’ve had to sign a number of legal documents in my life (not workers’ comp related), and the law offices involved always seemed to be able to produce necessary witnesses. And as far as a notary goes, you normally can’t swing a dead cat in a law office without hitting one. Perhaps I am wrong, but I never viewed this issue as the one that ties a case up for weeks or months.

It does not seem to be the boldest simplification effort we’ve ever witnessed. That is not to say it is a bad move, just not an audacious one. When it comes to simplifying processes, workers’ compensation certainly has bigger fish to fry.

Still, anything that reduces complexities and helps smooth the process should be welcome. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. That is probably a bad example as the Roman Empire became a huge and unwieldy civilization that eventually collapsed under its own burdensome weight. Hmmm. Maybe it is a proper comparison after all. 

In Pennsylvania, bass boat salesmen should rejoice. Injured workers receiving lump-sum settlements will no longer have to find two people capable of and willing to sign their name on a piece of paper. The money will be flowing like water down the Delaware River. Of course, when I lived in the Philly area in the 1960s, that river was pretty nasty. You could practically walk on it. Could be another bad example. 

When it comes to simplifying and speeding up the process in workers’ compensation, there is clearly more work to be done. According to one Pennsylvania law firm blog, “On average, […] most [contested] cases are finished within 18 months, and then it takes more time for the judge to make a decision. Depending on the judge, you may have to wait for an additional 8 to 12 months.” That is over two years that an injured worker’s life may be in limbo. Pennsylvania’s newest law may knock about 10 minutes off that period. Maybe they should go for the gusto and come up with something that knocks a few days off it.

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