Injured Workers settle case without attorney… Now What?

Injured workers settle their workers comp cases everyday without attorneys – this is nothing new.  But what most people don’t understand is that by signing a settlement agreement without consulting a workers compensation lawyer can cause you all sorts of problems.  Many times, as part of the settlement, your employer will ask you to sign a separate release of any and all claims that you currently have, or may have in the future, against your employer.  For injured workers without an attorney, this is dangerous territory.

There are a number of issues that could potentially come up in this separate release, and if you don’t have a workers compensation lawyer helping you to negotiate this agreement, you could run into several problems later on.  Here are the main issues that we frequently see:

  • The Settlement agreement does not comply with Industrial Commission rules and NC Statutes – making it unenforceable if you have second thoughts
  • You may be asked to give up other substantive law claims against your employer, such as claims of discrimination, retaliation, wrongful discharge, etc.
  • You may be giving up your rights to separate employee benefits, such as ERISA or COBRA benefits.
  • Many injured workers are asked to “resign” their position in connection with signing the settlement contract – this could have a negative impact if you are in the process of applying for, or are already receiving unemployment benefits
  • Often times, we see provisions stating that the injured workers will not file any lawsuits or participate in any lawsuits against the employer.
  • Many releases contain a provision indicating that the injured workers will never again seek employment from the defendant employer.  This can be a problem if you live in a small community where there is one main employer for most of the population, and nowhere else to work

The bottom line is that if you have decided to settle your case without the advice of counsel, there are a number of pitfalls that you can run into when signing a settlement agreement and release.  Consider speaking with a workers compensation lawyer if you have questions about this.  You may contact us at (919) 460-5422 or use our online form.

 

Does your Workers Comp Settlement require that you give up your job?

In North Carolina, if you have requested a hearing before one of the Deputy Secretary’s at the Industrial Commission, then you are required to attend mediation prior to the hearing. Insurance companies will sometimes ask you to accept an offer that will not only pay you a lump sum settlement, but will also require you to resign your position or give up other legal rights that are not related to your workers compensation claim. (Insurance Companies are funny about asking you to do a whole lot more than you are legally required to do, while at the same time doing a lot LESS than they are required to do).

Not anymore.  In a recent case, Kee v. Caromont Health, the NC Court of Appeals found that an agreement (also called a “clincher”) that requires a worker to give up their job in addition to accepting a lump sum settlement is not enforceable.  At issue in this case was whether a provision that requires an employee to resign their position could be severed from the remainder of the settlement agreement – and the court found that it could not.

The rationale that the court used in this case was that the agreement did not comply with Rule 502(2)(e), which says that no compromise agreement will be approved unless it contains language which states “That no rights other than those arising under the provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act are compromised or released.”

Since the agreement at issue in this case did not contain this language, the agreement as a whole was unenforceable.

If you have a question about whether your Compromise Settlement Agreement is enforceable, please feel free to call NC Workers Compensation Lawyer James Hart at (919) 460-5422.