History, Mission, and Organization
Legislation establishing a system for resolving claims of workplace injuries was first enacted in Nebraska in 1913 with the adoption of the Nebraska Workmen’s Compensation Act (the Act) From then until 1917 the Act was administered by the several state district courts. In 1917, the Legislature created the Compensation Division within the Department of Labor and the commissioner of labor was designated compensation commissioner. To assure stability through longer-tenured judges not subject to political changes and provide a degree of specialization and expertise in a technical area, the 1935 Legislature established the three-judge Workmen’s Compensation Court and transferred Compensation Division functions to the court. In 1986, the name of the court was changed to the Workers’ Compensation Court. By 1988, the workers’ compensation bench had grown to seven judges who hear disputed cases throughout the state. The authority and responsibilities of the court are described in Chapter 48, Article 1, of the Revised Statutes of Nebraska (cited as “Neb. Rev. Stat.”).
The mission of the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court is to administer and enforce all provisions of the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act, except those committed to the courts of appellate jurisdiction or as otherwise provided by Neb. Rev. Stat. § 48-152.
The Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court is composed of seven judges who initially are appointed by the governor. Judges are then subject to a retention vote by the electorate three years after appointment and every six years thereafter. Every two years one of the judges is elected by the judges of the court to serve as presiding judge, subject to approval of the Nebraska Supreme Court. The court maintains offices in Lincoln and Omaha, although all court filings must be made in the Lincoln office.
The judge assigned to each case travels to the county in the state where the alleged accident occurred to hear a dispute regarding workers’ compensation benefits. The judge then enters a written ruling stating his or her factual and legal conclusions. The judge’s decision may be appealed to the Nebraska Court of Appeals. A limited number of appeals may also be heard by the Nebraska Supreme Court, either directly or upon further review of a decision by the Nebraska Court of Appeals.
For administrative purposes, the judges and staff of the court are organized into two operating divisions and seven operating sections. The adjudication division, under the direction of the presiding judge, includes the judges and the Office of the Clerk of the Court. The administration division, under the direction of the court administrator, includes the remaining six sections as identified below. The presiding judge is charged with overall responsibility for the functioning of the court, and the court administrator serves as its chief administrative officer.
Office of the Clerk of the Court
The Office of the Clerk of the Court receives and processes electronic and paper court filings, dockets cases, issues summonses, schedules trials and motion hearings, corresponds with the litigants, issues opinions of the court, keeps full and true records of judicial proceedings, and provides administrative and secretarial support for the judges. This section also evaluates procedures used by other state courts to ensure consistency and create efficiencies.
Business and Human Resources section
The Business and Human Resources section is responsible for the business, financial, and personnel functions of the court. The section administers the second injury program, which provides workers’ compensation benefits to qualified workers with a preexisting disability in addition to a work injury occurring before December 1, 1997. Also, this section pays vocational rehabilitation training costs for injured workers in approved plans developed to return them to suitable work. Under federal grants, the section conducts a survey of work-related injuries and illnesses and a data collection program as to fatal workplace injuries sustained in the State of Nebraska.
The Legal section reviews settlement applications for adequacy and compliance with the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act); conducts mediation conferences to facilitate informal resolution of disputes; informs injured workers, employers, and others of their rights and obligations under the Act; performs research for the judges; provides legal advice to court staff; monitors legislation for potential impact on the workers’ compensation system; and manages the court’s records retention schedule.
Regulatory Programs section
The Regulatory Programs section has responsibilities in three distinct areas: Compliance; Medical Services; and Self-Insurance. Compliance activities include enforcing insurance coverage requirements, enforcing the claims handling and reporting obligations of insurers and self-insured employers, and receiving and processing reports of injury and benefit payments. Medical services activities include revising and maintaining schedules of medical and hospital fees, administering the independent medical examiner program, certifying and monitoring managed care plans, and responding to inquiries related to medical issues. Self-insurance activities include reviewing applications for self-insurance approval, monitoring the financial status and payroll records of self-insured employers, and collecting fees and assessments from self-insured employers.
Vocational Rehabilitation section
The Vocational Rehabilitation section is responsible for certifying vocational rehabilitation counselors and job placement specialists, appointing a vocational rehabilitation counselor if the parties cannot agree on the selection, and reviewing and approving proposed vocational rehabilitation plans. This section also monitors the progress of injured workers in approved vocational rehabilitation plans and determines what plan expenses may be reimbursed by the Workers’ Compensation Trust Fund.
Public Information section
The Public Information section responds to requests for records and information, supports a toll-free telephone information line (including language interpretation services, when needed), maintains the court’s website, and prepares court publications. Duties of this section include managing the business continuity program for the court.
Information Technology section
The Information Technology section is responsible for the security and maintenance of the computer network, programs, and databases of the court. The section develops and maintains the court’s desktop and Internet systems; develops computer programs and applications; coordinates information technology activities with the Supreme Court, state agencies, and vendors; and assists other court sections in performing their statutory responsibilities and creating efficiencies through the use of technology.