The VCF hearing process has been largely uncharted territory, owing in part to the fact that the Zadroga Act did not provide any detailed guidelines for adjudicating contested VCF eligibility and compensation decisions. Indeed, the first such hearings have only taken place within the last year. However, consistent with the purpose of the Act, the Special Master and her staff have designed a hearing procedure that is both effective and takes the sensitive nature of the subject matter into account.
The first hearing appeals only occurred in January of 2014. The process is likely to continue to evolve as time passes and more proceedings occur. Any claimant who is dissatisfied with a decision by the VCF is granted an appeal hearing upon request. Appeals can relate to overall eligibility as well as to the amount of compensation awarded to eligible claimants.
- Hearings can be in person or by telephone, as the circumstances require.
- Hearings are non-adversarial. There is no attorney or representative present to argue in favor of the disputed VCF decision.
- Claimants can present additional documentary evidence such as medical records as well as fact and expert witnesses. While traditional rules of evidence are not strictly applied, the presiding officer does have the right to inquire as to the credentials of any expert witness and to consider them when assigning weight to his or her testimony.
- Hearings typically last less than one hour. However, there is no time limit for the claimant’s presentation.
- The hearing officer does not decide the appeal at the hearing. Instead, he or she sends a written decision to the claimant.
While the Special Master technically presides over each hearing, she may delegate authority to her deputy or to one of several trained hearing officers to act in her stead. While our attorneys at Barasch & McGarry strive to avoid hearings by submitting comprehensive evidence with our clients’ applications, we are also prepared to pursue hearing appeals when we believe them to be in our clients’ best interests.