By John C. Schafer
Deputy Commissioner in Charge of Mediation
In 1994 the Industrial Commission began implementing a pilot mediation program which was created by the General Assembly to determine whether mediation could (1) help settle workers’ compensation cases more efficiently for the parties and (2) save work for the Commission, thus freeing its resources to decide cases that cannot be settled. An evaluation subsequently performed by the Institute of Government concluded that the pilot program was very successful in meeting its goals, and further noted that "[a] ttorneys and certified mediators responding to a survey generally expressed favorable views toward the mediation program."
Although the Institute of Government’s evaluation supported the Commission’s plan to automatically refer all cases to mediation upon the filing of a Form 33 request for hearing, many observers believed that the mediation settlement rates and the overall effectiveness of the mediation program would be adversely affected when the Commission began referring all cases to mediation during the 1996-97 fiscal year, as opposed to the previous procedure of selectively referring to mediation those cases that appeared to be most suitable to a negotiated resolution. Nevertheless, as the volume of cases referred to mediation has steadily increased from 900 cases during the 1994-95 fiscal year to 8,703 cases during the 1999-2000 fiscal year, the mediation settlement rates have not decreased, but have increased from 60% to over 73%. If the cases that are resolved prior to scheduled mediated settlement conferences are also included, the Industrial Commission mediation settlement rate is now almost 80%, and more than 92% of the cases that complete the mediation process are resolved prior to a formal hearing.
Despite the fact that the number of requests for hearing filed with the Industrial Commission has increased by almost 50%, from 5,820 during the 1994-95 fiscal year to 8,680 during the 1999-2000 fiscal year, and that the number of hearings actually conducted has decreased by almost 50% during that same period, the large backlog of cases that were ready for hearing but not yet heard has been eliminated. As a result, those cases that are not being settled in mediation are being heard and resolved much more quickly by the Commission.
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N.C. Industrial Commission · Mediation Section · 4342 Mail Service Center · Raleigh, NC 27699-4342