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For more than two decades, the workers' compensation courts increasingly have been perceived as a weak link in the California workers' compensation system. The courts have been criticized for being slow, expensive, and procedurally inconsistent. In response to these concerns, the California Commission on Health and Safety and Workers' Compensation engaged the RAND Institute for Civil Justice to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the workers' compensation courts in the state. The research team analyzed the causes of delay in the resolution of workers' compensation disputes, the reasons for the high costs of litigation, and why procedures are inconsistent across the state. They found that the courts' problems stem largely from severe understaffing, the failure to upgrade their management information system, and a lack of clear guidance and coordination in the governing rules and procedures. The study team proposes a number of recommendations for change (covering areas such as staffing, technology, judicial training, calendaring, continuance policies, internal office practices, and case management) that are designed to improve the process of dispute resolution for California's injured workers.

Table of Contents

  • Part One

    Background and Methodology

  • Chapter 1

    "...A Feeling of Crisis..."

  • Chapter 2

    RAND-ICJ's Approach to Understanding the WCAB Judicial Function

  • Part Two

    Past History & Current Status of Workers' Compensation Dispute Resolution

  • Chapter 3

    Overview of the California Workers Compensation Adjudication Process and Administration

  • Chapter 4

    Evolution of the Workers' Compensation Judicial Process in California

  • Chapter 5

    The Current Workload of the WCAB

  • Chapter 6

    Analysis of Factors Influencing the Speed of Litigation

  • Chapter 7

    Office Comparisons

  • Chapter 8

    Judicial Time Expenditures

  • Chapter 9

    Judicial Time Expenditures

  • Chapter 10

    Staffing and Related Budgetary Issues

  • Part Three

    Findings and Recommendations

  • Chapter 11

    Personnel at DWC Branch offices

  • Chapter 12

    Interoffice and Interjudge Variation in Procedures and Decisionmaking

  • Chapter 13

    Pretrial Practices at DWC Branch Offices

  • Chapter 14

    Case Management

  • Chapter 15

    Review of Attorney's Fee Requests and Proposed Settlements

  • Chapter 16

    Trial and Posttrial Procedures

  • Chapter 17

    Court Technology

  • Chapter 18

    "Customer Satisfaction" and the WCAB Experience

  • Chapter 19

    Workers' Compensation Adjudication Management and Policy

  • Chapter 20

    Improving "The People's Court"

  • Appendix A

    Complete List of Recommendations

  • Appendix B

    Frequently Used Abbreviations

The research described in this report was prepared for the California Commission on Health and Safety and Workers' Compensation. This research was conducted by the RAND Institute for Civil Justice.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation monograph report series. The monograph/report was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1993 to 2003. RAND monograph/reports presented major research findings that addressed the challenges facing the public and private sectors. They included executive summaries, technical documentation, and synthesis pieces.

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