(a) An Alternative Dispute Resolution Division is established to resolve disputes without the necessity of a hearing.
(b) Hearing requests or motions will be screened in order to identify cases likely to be resolved by Board order or the mediation process without a hearing.
(c) In addition, the ADR Division and each Administrative Law Judge shall have the authority to direct the parties to attend a mediation conference when deemed appropriate by the Board. The Board’s authority to direct the parties to attend a mediation conference shall extend to include mediation of disputes which arise in cases designated as “Medical Only.” Participation in a mediation conference shall not abridge the rights of the parties to a subsequent evidentiary hearing or ruling on the contested issues should the issues not be successfully resolved through mediation. An expedited hearing may be scheduled by agreement of the parties subsequent to the conference being held. An agreement reached at mediation will be reduced to writing and shall have the full effect of an award or order issued by the Board. A settlement agreement reached through the mediation process must be submitted and reviewed pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 34-9-15 and Board Rule 15.
(d) Parties requesting a Board mediation for the purpose of an all issues settlement must file a Form WC-100 certifying that all parties are in agreement with the request for a settlement mediation and that the employer/insurer has, or will have by the date of the first scheduled mediation conference, authority to resolve the claim based upon a good faith evaluation. The Form WC-100 must be served on all parties and parties at interest simultaneous with the board filing.
(e) Notices of Mediation will be sent by electronic mail and shall only be sent to attorneys of record. Whenever electronic transmission is not available, a Notice of Mediation will be sent by mail.
(1) All communications or statements, oral or written, that take place within the context of a mediation conference are confidential and not subject to disclosure. Such communications or statements shall not be disclosed by any mediator, party, attorney, attendee or Board employee, and may not be used as evidence in any proceeding. An executed Board mediation sheet or written executed agreement resulting from a mediation is not subject to the confidentiality described above.
(2) Neither the mediator nor any 3rd party observer present with the permission of the parties may be subpoenaed or otherwise required to testify concerning a mediation or settlement negotiations in any proceeding. The mediator’s notes shall not be placed in the Board’s file, are not subject to discovery, and shall not be used as evidence in any proceeding.
(3) Confidentiality does not extend to:
(A) threats of violence to the mediator or others;
(B) security personnel or law enforcement officials;
(C) party or attorney misconduct;
(D) legal or disciplinary complaints brought against a mediator or attorney arising out of and in the course of a mediation;
(F) the list of physicians submitted to an Administrative Law Judge by the parties or attorneys when the parties have been ordered to submit the names of physicians in a change of physician dispute and the dispute is not resolved through mediation.
(1) Each party to the dispute is required to have in attendance at the mediation conference a person or persons who have adequate authority to resolve all pending issues. The employee shall be in attendance at the mediation conference. The employer shall have in attendance at the mediation conference a representative of the employer/insurer who has authority to resolve all pending issues. The requirement of the presence of the employer/insurer’s representative shall not be satisfied by the presence of legal counsel of the employer. In claims where the Subsequent Injury Trust Fund (SITF) is a party-at-interest to the claim, a representative of the SITF must either be in attendance at the mediation conference or have extended settlement authority to the representative of the employer/insurer no later than two business days prior to the date of the conference. Exceptions to the attendance requirement may be granted upon permission of an Administrative Law Judge from the ADR Division or his/her designee, obtained prior to the conference date.
(2) Only the parties and attorneys of record may attend a scheduled mediation. Exceptions to attendance may be granted if agreed or consented to by the parties and attorneys of record and approved by a mediator or an Administrative Law Judge.
(1) Any party or attorney directed or ordered by the Board to participate in or attend a mediation conference and who fails to attend the scheduled conference without reasonable grounds may be subject to civil penalties, attorney’s fees, and/or costs. If the parties or attorneys agree to the postponement and/or rescheduling of a mediation conference, such request may be granted at the discretion of an Administrative Law Judge from the ADR Division or his/her designee upon good cause shown. Any party or attorney requesting cancellation, postponement or rescheduling of a mediation conference shall provide notice to all parties or their attorneys and shall promptly, but in no event later than 4:30 p.m. on the business day immediately before the scheduled mediation conference, notify the ADR Division of the request: (1) first, by telephone call; and (2) if so instructed by the ADR Division, by subsequent written or electronic confirmation.
(2) Whenever the pending mediation issues resolve or a case settles prior to a scheduled mediation date, the parties or attorneys shall immediately notify the ADR Division: (1) first, by telephone call; and (2) if so instructed by the ADR Division, by subsequent written or electronic confirmation.
(3) Any party or attorney who fails to follow the cancellation, postponement, or rescheduling procedures as outlined above in sections (h)(1) & (2), and who is unable to show good cause for such failure, may be subject to civil penalties, assessed attorney’s fees, and/or costs.
(i) No person, party, or attorney shall, during the course of any mediation, engage in any discourteous, unprofessional, or disruptive conduct.