Settlement of a workers’ compensation claim should only be entered into by workers who have had time to consult with an experienced attorney. The reason is settlement agreements are binding contracts, and signing off on one may prohibit any future claim for injuries, even if the injury or illness worsens.
Careful review of these documents is imperative so that the affected worker isn’t cheated out of future benefits to which he or she may otherwise be rightfully entitled.
A settlement may result in:
- No more weekly benefits.
- Continued medical payments.
- A lump sum damage award.
All agreements must be approved by the state workers’ compensation board.
Such agreements can be beneficial, but only if they offer a fair deal. Our Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyers help to ensure that.
A recent case out of Delaware involved the issue of workers’ compensation settlement agreements. In Christiana Care Health Services v. Davis, the question before the Delaware Supreme Court was whether a work injury settlement was valid and binding and supported substantially by the facts.
According to court records, claimant worked as a dishwasher at a local hospital. In 2012, while he was working, he slipped and fell backward onto his back. Months later, he filed a workers’ compensation claim, alleging total disability since the date of his fall. He submitted to a medical examination requested by his employer, and the doctor wrote at that point – six months after the fall – any injury causally connected to the accident had been completely resolved. Ongoing symptoms, the doctor reported, were the result of a non-work-related gunshot injury claimant had suffered previously.
A month later, company sent an “extremely modest” offer that the court noted as an attempt to get plaintiff to agree any work-related injury had already been resolved, and thus he would be barred from seeking future benefits, including ongoing medical treatment.
Claimant’s attorney on his behalf accepted the offer, acknowledging the work injury had resolved and the letter constituted a complete settlement, which was approved by the state nearly a year after claimant’s fall.
However, eight months later, claimant filed another petition with the state, alleging 8 percent permanent impairment as a result of his fall. Employer filed a motion to dismiss, pointing to the settlement agreement and noting that barred all future claims.
The state workers’ compensation board granted employer’s motion, concluding objective evidence clearly indicated the agreement included a provision indicating worker’s lumbar spine contusion was completely resolved, and that treatment would only be paid for a limited period.
Claimant appealed, and the state superior court reversed, finding it was unsupported by evidence. The court ruled the language in the agreement didn’t free the company indefinitely of future responsibility, but rather was an acknowledgement that claimant’s injury was work-related and all causally-related medical bills that were reasonable would be covered.
Delaware Supreme Court reversed. The court underscored the function of the appeals court, which is to determine whether there is substantial evidence to support the finding of the workers’ compensation board. It doesn’t independently act as a trier of fact with authority to weigh evidence, ascertain credibility or make its own factual findings or conclusions.
Here, the state supreme court ruled, the superior court stepped outside of this role. Further, the decision by the state workers’ compensation board was supported by substantial evidence, and therefore the agreement is binding. Worker can receive no further benefits.
For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-303-7770.