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The Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) unit at the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) seeks early intervention in workers' compensation disputes through conference and mediation. It handles calls from the workers' compensation hotline and responds to questions from injured workers and their employers.

For further information or to get answers to your questions, contact ADR at dli.workcomp@state.mn.us, 651-284-5005 or 800-342-5354.

1. Mediation seems to be gaining ground in many areas of the law. What is the current status of mediation in workers' compensation?

Like practitioners in other areas of the law, workers' compensation attorneys and claims professionals are recognizing the benefits of resolving disputes through mediation. It is often quicker, more predictable and less expensive than litigation. Parties have several options to choose from to suit their needs; mediation services are offered through private mediators, the Office of Administrative Hearings and through the ADR unit at DLI.

At DLI, mediation services are provided free of charge. Parties may select from a staff of more than a dozen mediators, all of whom are professionally trained in mediation and negotiation techniques. DLI mediators bring a wide range of experience to the mediation process, including backgrounds in litigation, nursing, vocational rehabilitation and claims management.

2. As a claims manager, I'm seeing a lot more disputes involving medical treatment and charges. How is DLI's ADR unit responding to this trend?

Whether through its customer assistance telephone hotline, filing of Medical Request forms or requests for mediation, DLI's ADR unit has definitely been presented with the challenge of helping parties resolve more and more medical disputes.

To meet this challenge, the staff is continually kept apprised of the most recent developments in the medical fee schedule, treatment parameters, case law and best practices in health care dispute-resolution. Our ADR unit constantly assesses its dispute prevention and resolution processes to make sure each case is handled as efficiently as possible, depending on its unique set of circumstances.

For example, the unit was recently presented with a large number of cases involving the same medical bill reviewer and same provider. The cases all involved a similar defense being asserted by the bill reviewer. These cases were assigned two mediators/arbitrators with special expertise in resolving such cases. The mediators/arbitrators worked closely with the disputing parties, ultimately leading these cases down a dispute-resolution path best suited for fair and efficient resolution.

3. To prepare for a mediation session, what do the parties need?

Preparation for a mediation session can help ensure parties are ready to make the best effort possible to resolve a dispute.

A few steps of preparation can help avoid unnecessary delays and result in quicker resolutions. First, the parties should make sure any and all intervenors or potential intervenors are identified and the outstanding interests of these potential intervenors are identified. Next, the parties should make sure there is a general understanding of the realistic value of the claim from both parties' perspectives. Unrealistic expectations on either side will make it more difficult to resolve the claim.

Expectations can be more realistic and settlement at mediation  is more likely to occur if parties attempt negotiations prior to the mediation. Finally, a willingness to see the potential claim from the other party's perspective is more likely lead to a satisfactory resolution.

4. When is a claim "ripe" for mediation?

Any time is a good time to use mediation services in most claims. Major or minor issues can readily be addressed by mediation.

Generally, any time the parties can get together to discuss matters, it is ultimately going to be useful in getting a claim resolved down the road even if no specific issue is resolved on the date of the mediation session. In the earlier stages of a claim, mediation may be a significant cost-saving event if the matter can be resolved before a great deal of legal expense is incurred.