Georgia workers’ compensation cases are sometimes resolved through an agreement between the claimant and the employer. A recent case demonstrates the importance of obtaining competent representation before entering into a settlement agreement because of the permanent effects an agreement can have in a case.
In a recent case, a hair stylist at J.C. Penney claimed she suffered a work-related injury in March 2010 and filed a workers’ compensation claim in February 2011 for pain in her left foot. J.C. Penney accepted the claim as compensable. Under an agreement, the claimant received a payment “in full and final settlement of all claims for any and all benefits, injuries, disease, illnesses, conditions, and/or symptoms and any and all sequelae allegedly sustain as a result of” her workplace injury. It also stated that the agreement was “intended to be a general release of all claims of the employee against the employer and the insurance carrier arising from employee’s agreement with employer.”
About six months after the settlement was approved, the claimant filed a new notice of injury, alleging a March 10, 2015 injury to her foot. The employer denied the claim, stating that the claim was a preexisting condition and unrelated to employment, and it filed a motion for summary judgment. The Commissioner of the Department of Labor denied J.C. Penney’s motion for summary judgment. The Commissioner determined that the 2014 settlement agreement released the employer from claims related to the March 2010 injuries and was enforceable. However, the Commissioner found the remainder of the settlement agreement was void on public policy grounds because it could not bar unrelated claims. J.C. Penney appealed, arguing that the Commissioner lacked the authority to invalidate an approved settlement agreement.
The state’s supreme court agreed and found that the Commissioner lacked the authority to void the settlement agreement on public policy grounds. State law only allowed the Commissioner to approve or reject a settlement at the time it was initially presented. In this case, the agreement was already approved, and thus, the Commissioner could not revisit the agreement later.
If you agree to a settlement in a workers’ compensation case in Georgia, you must submit the proposed settlement to the State Board for its consideration of approval. The submission must include the original agreement and required copies, certification by the insurer that a copy of the agreement was sent to the worker before it was signed, a copy of the contingency fee contract with the attorney, and other documents, as required under Board Rule 15. The Board can reject an agreement if it fails to meet the procedural requirements or if the settlement figure is inadequate, among other reasons.
Have You Suffered a Workplace Injury?
If you or a loved one has suffered a Georgia workplace injury, talk to a workers’ compensation lawyer as soon as possible. You may be entitled to benefits under Georgia’s Workers’ Compensation Act, including weekly compensation. At the Georgia law office of J. Franklin Burns, P.C., our attorneys have decades of collective experience handling workers’ compensation claims. For knowledgeable representation by experienced injury attorneys, you can rely on the law office of J. Franklin Burns, P.C. To learn more about how we can help you pursue workers’ compensation benefits, call us for a free consultation at 404-303-7770.