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Message from the Tribunal Director 2004

Tribunal Report

After the completion of the backlog reduction project, the Tribunal looked forward to a period of relative calm and stability, as we contemplated a "steady state" of incoming appeals and dispositions. Instead, in 2003 we found ourselves in the position of attempting to keep pace with unanticipated caseload developments while relying upon declining resources and fewer adjudicators. The Tribunal's performance against these odds has been impressive, but in the end, insufficient to maintain the desired state of equilibrium that we anticipated.

In the last several years, the Tribunal has worked with the WSIB to derive information concerning the likely number of appeals that will result from the Board's decision processes; and of all the variables that affect our caseload, this has proven to be the most stable and predictable. We expected to receive 950 new cases per quarter in 2003, consisting primarily of appeals from final WSIB decisions. We received, on average, 980.5 new cases per quarter, an excess of 122 cases over estimates for the year.

After introducing the Notice of Appeal process in 2001, the Tribunal monitored its appeals inventory in an effort to determine how many of the appeals filed under the new process would proceed to hearing. As we reached the two-year anniversary of the new process, we made two significant observations: appellants took longer than expected to confirm their readiness to appeal, but when they did, they did so at a greater rate than the Tribunal expected based upon its past experience. This meant that 690 more appeals were confirmed as ready to proceed in 2003 than the Tribunal expected.

On its own, this increase in hearing ready cases need not have presented any exceptional challenges for the Tribunal, as our staff and processes underwent a number of changes in 2002 and 2003 to support a steady and high number of appeals proceeding through the process. Unfortunately, our ability to respond to this increase in hearing ready appeals was hampered by a significant reduction in the number of adjudicators available to hear these appeals. Although the Tribunal's staff worked diligently in 2003 to prepare cases for hearing, by the end of the year our scheduling department found itself with a surplus of appeals awaiting scheduling. In late 2002 and 2003, a number of adjudicators resigned from the Tribunal or did not have their appointments renewed; and sadly, one of our vice-chairs, Nick McCombie, passed away in the midst of his illustrious and productive career with the Tribunal. During the same period, only one new vice-chair was appointed. The Tribunal has also been hampered in scheduling appeals before full panels due to significant attrition in its complement of full-time and parttime members. The remaining adjudicators have provided exceptional service to the community by continuing to be available for scheduled hearings while attempting to cope with a heavy and steadily increasing load of decisions to write.

To place this in context, at the peak of the backlog reduction project the Tribunal had 65 vice-chairs, and in 2001 it released 3,499 final decisions. By the end of 2003, the Tribunal had only 30 vice-chairs, but was still able to release 2,408 final decisions that year. The commitment and dedication of our adjudicators has been outstanding in the face of these events.

Outlook for 2004

As a result, as we enter 2004, the Tribunal's active inventory has increased beyond targeted levels, and the parties are again encountering delays in the scheduling of hearings and the release of decisions in completed appeals. The Tribunal is anxious to prevent the repetition of the difficult period we experienced between 1998 and 2001; but we must again ask the patience of our stakeholders as we work towards normalizing our workload. Assuming that a sufficient number of adjudicators are appointed early in 2004, we expect to begin making inroads in our backlog of appeals ready for hearing by the end of 2004. However, delays in scheduling and decision release, as well as the number of appeals in our active inventory, may increase during the first part of 2004, and we do not anticipate reaching our inventory targets until 2006. In the meantime, we continue to be dedicated to the same level and quality of service that the community has come to expect of us.

Marsha Faubert
April 2004

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