48-168. Compensation court; rules of evidence; procedure; informal dispute resolution; procedure.

(1) The Nebraska Workers' Compensation Court shall not be bound by the usual common-law or statutory rules of evidence or by any technical or formal rules of procedure, other than as herein provided, but may make the investigation in such manner as in its judgment is best calculated to ascertain the substantial rights of the parties and to carry out justly the spirit of the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act.

(2)(a) The Nebraska Workers' Compensation Court may establish procedures whereby a dispute may be submitted by the parties, by the provider of medical, surgical, or hospital services pursuant to section 48-120, by a vocational rehabilitation counselor certified pursuant to section 48-162.01, or by the compensation court on its own motion for informal dispute resolution by a staff member of the compensation court or outside mediator. Any party who requests such informal dispute resolution shall not be precluded from filing a petition pursuant to section 48-173 if otherwise permitted. If informal dispute resolution is ordered by the compensation court on its own motion, the compensation court may state a date for the case to return to court. Such date shall be no longer than ninety days after the date the order was signed unless the court grants an extension upon request of the parties. No settlement reached as the result of an informal dispute resolution proceeding shall be final or binding unless such settlement is in conformity with the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act. Any such settlement shall be voluntarily entered into by the parties.

(b)(i) Except as permitted in subdivision (b)(ii) of this subsection, a mediator shall not make a report, assessment, evaluation, recommendation, finding, or other communication regarding a mediation to a judge of the compensation court that may make a ruling on the dispute that is the subject of the mediation.

(ii) A mediator may disclose:

(A) Whether the mediation occurred or has terminated, whether a settlement was reached, and attendance; and

(B) A mediation communication evidencing abuse, neglect, abandonment, or exploitation of an individual to a public agency responsible for protecting individuals against such mistreatment.

(iii) A communication made in violation of subdivision (b)(i) of this subsection shall not be considered by a judge of the compensation court.

(c) Informal dispute resolution proceedings shall be regarded as settlement negotiations and no admission, representation, or statement made in informal dispute resolution proceedings, not otherwise discoverable or obtainable, shall be admissible as evidence or subject to discovery. A staff member or mediator shall not be subject to process requiring the disclosure of any matter discussed during informal dispute resolution proceedings. Any information from the files, reports, notes of the staff member or mediator, or other materials or communications, oral or written, relating to an informal dispute resolution proceeding obtained by a staff member or mediator is privileged and confidential and may not be disclosed without the written consent of all parties to the proceeding. No staff member or mediator shall be held liable for civil damages for any statement or decision made in the process of dispute resolution unless such person acted in a manner exhibiting willful or wanton misconduct.

(d) The compensation court may adopt and promulgate rules and regulations regarding informal dispute resolution proceedings that are considered necessary to effectuate the purposes of this section.

Source:Laws 1917, c. 85, § 29, p. 220; C.S.1922, § 3080; C.S.1929, § 48-157; Laws 1935, c. 57, § 36, p. 205; C.S.Supp.,1941, § 48-157; R.S.1943, § 48-168; Laws 1986, LB 811, § 101; Laws 1993, LB 757, § 25; Laws 2006, LB 489, § 34; Laws 2009, LB630, § 10.