Reduction In Magistrates Means Delays For Injured Michigan Workers

There's an old legal saying: Justice delayed is justice denied. Unfortunately for injured workers in Michigan, justice is being delayed by the low number of magistrates available to hear workers' compensation cases.

About 90 percent of workers' comp cases in Michigan are resolved without a trial. But those disputed cases that do require a trial also require a magistrate, and the number of magistrates has declined sharply in the last few years.

In 2003, Governor Granholm, acting by executive order, reduced the number of workers' comp magistrates from 30 to 26. Citing efficiency concerns, Granholm again reduced the number of magistrates in 2009 to just 17. Additionally, due to attrition, only 14 magistrates are currently serving. Magistrates are appointed by the governor, and three new appointees are expected soon. But even at "full" strength of 17, the Board of Magistrates remains understaffed.

The effect of these cuts in the number of magistrates can be seen in the number of cases still open after 12 months. In 2000 before the reduction in staff, only 22 percent of all cases were still unresolved after a year. By the end of 2010, that percentage had nearly doubled to 43 percent. The complex cases still unresolved after two years have shown an even more pronounced increase, going from just 1.7 percent of all cases in 2000 to 14.1 percent of all cases in 2010.

The cuts to the number of magistrates were said to be justified by "productivity and caseload," but as these figures demonstrate, that is simply not the case. Today's complex workers' compensation cases require experienced attorneys, but they also require magistrates to hear them. Unfortunately, unless more magistrates are appointed by the governor, justice for injured Michigan workers will continue to be delayed-and hence, denied.