Is It Possible to Amicably Resolve a DBA Dispute Through Mediation?

Picture if you will a situation where you are working as a civilian contractor at a United States military base overseas.  You work around a lot of heavy equipment, a lot of noisy military transport vehicles, and a lot of loud machinery.  You begin to discover over a number of years that your hearing is not what it used to be.  You get checked out, and you learn that you are suffering from serious hearing loss in both ears because of your work environment.

What to do?  Well, it is a work-related injury.  So, your first order of business is to file a workers’ compensation claim.  Because you are a civilian employee working on a military base overseas, you are likely covered by the federal law called the Defense Base Act (DBA), which is an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.

In accordance with the Defense Base Act, your employer should have gotten workers’ compensation coverage that satisfies the requirements of the Act.  You then need to file a claim with the Department of Labor’s Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Office, which administers the Defense Base Act.  Once you have done that, the question becomes whether your employer (or more accurately, your employer’s insurer) will provide you with workers’ compensation benefits.

We are using a hearing loss injury in this example because those are sometimes harder to prove, or at least, you will more frequently get push-back from your employer’s insurer on such a workers’ compensation claim.  If you do get that expected push-back, you may find yourself having to go to mediation.  Accordingly, this article will spend a little time talking about the basics of the mediation process in the Defense Base Act context.

Of course, if you are suffering from any type of work-related injury and you are covered by the Defense Base Act, you need a seasoned DBA attorney in Jacksonville, FL to help you with your claim.  The attorneys at Doolittle & Tucker are the DBA attorneys in Jacksonville, FL who can provide you with a free case review.  We are experts in the highly specialized field of Defense Base Act claims.  Please give us a call to learn more about how we can make the claims process easy, how we can represent you during a mediation, and how we can maximize your compensation.  We can be reached at 904-396-1734.

What is Mediation?

Mediation is an informal meeting between the parties.  Typically, there is a third-party, unbiased mediator, who attempts to get the parties to reach a conclusion.  Even if a resolution is not possible, a good mediator will work to get the parties at least closer to agreement than where they were previously.  Normally, when the parties are very far apart in settlement negotiations, or when talks break down entirely, it is good thing to try mediation in Defense Base Act or Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act cases.

Taking our hearing loss example, it is likely that your employer’s insurer may question whether your Defense Base Act claim of hearing loss is truly due to your workplace environment, rather than circumstances in your outside-of-work life.  If such a dispute serves to block the payment of any benefits to you, then one phase in the Defense Base Act process, before going to a full hearing before an administrative judge, is to mediate the matter.

What are the Mechanics of the Mediation Process?

Mediation can really be a marvelous tool to both resolve specific disputes and even resolve the case in its entirety.  During mediation, the mediator will meet with both the employer/insurer and the injured worker in an attempt to resolve the specific disputes, or arrive at a settlement number that is mutually acceptable to both parties.

A skilled mediator may use several different tactics to have the parties reach agreement.  In most cases, the mediator will meet with all parties and their lawyers at once, just to explain the ground rules, and even to chat a little about the extent of the differences between the parties.  Then, the mediator will put the parties in separate rooms and shuttle back and forth between the rooms to see if he or she can bring the parties closer.

Engaging in that shuttling process allows the mediator to engage with each party in a way that is non-confrontational, and helps focus the conversation.  Many times, if a mediator can find an area of agreement, the mediator can take advantage of that to see if there are other areas that could follow from the initial common ground.

How Will You Prepare for a Mediation?

Your lawyer will prepare you by explaining the strengths and the weaknesses of your case.  He or she will also go over the position taken by the employer/insurer, what liens have been outstanding, any out-of-pocket expenses, and what your future benefits are.  He or she will then discuss concepts such as present value and discount rate, and will give you a suggestion as to what the value of your case should be.  Your attorney should give you a monetary range.

How Long Does a Mediation Usually Take?

Your mediation will likely take several hours.  You will be present with your lawyer, the mediator, and the opposing party.  As noted, at some point in time, the parties will break apart.  You and your lawyer will be in one room, and the employer/insurer and their lawyer will be in another.  The mediator will then go back and forth trying to iron out the issues or reach a settlement agreement.  The back and forth can go on for a good part of the day.

An experienced mediator will be able to get a feel for whether there is room for movement and opportunities for agreement, or whether the parties are just too dug in and/or far apart to agree.  That determination will have some bearing on how long the process actually takes.  But you should trust the mediator to know when to push on, or when further mediation would be futile.  Thus, the length of the mediation could have a lot to do with how much agreement is possible.

Why Do You Need an Attorney for a Defense Base Act Claim and Mediation?

Under the Defense Base Act, you need an attorney for several reasons.  First, your attorney will ensure that you are provided with proper benefits on a timely basis.  Second, your attorney will monitor your medical progress to make sure that you receive whatever your physician is requesting or recommending.  Third, if the employer and the insurance company have an attorney, then so should you.

The Defense Base Act is a very niche area of the law.  There are very few attorneys nationwide that actively and frequently practice Defense Base Act work.  For the best results, you need an attorney on whom you can rely.  You also need an attorney with the experience and reputation in the industry to assist you and make the most out of your claim. Call the DBA attorneys in Jacksonville, FL for your claim, Doolittle & Tucker at 904-396-1734.