There are two types of workers’ compensation settlements in Georgia, and careful consideration must be taken before opting for one kind or the other. Before signing any documentation or making any formal agreement with your employer or the insurer, you’d benefit from consulting with an Atlanta workers’ compensation attorney.
Two Types of Workers’ Comp Settlements
The two types of settlements that apply to workers’ compensation cases in Georgia are standard settlements (also referred to as Liability Stipulations) and No-Liability Stipulations:
- Liability Stipulations – When both parties agree that the claim is legitimate and that the employer/insurer is liable, then a standard settlement will be drafted. In these cases, both parties have agreed that the injury is compensable under workers’ compensation, and the worker is due benefits. This “liability stipulation” will lay out the terms of the benefits and will be submitted to the State Board of Workers’ Compensation (SBWC).
- No-Liability Stipulations – A no-liability stipulation is an agreement between the employer and employee that states that the parties disagree about the compensability of an injury, but the employer has agreed to provide a certain amount of compensation to the employee anyway. It’s an agree-to-disagree settlement. Once drafted and signed, it must be submitted to the SBWC.
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Which type of settlement is right for you?
The SBWC has very detailed guidelines on what both types of stipulations must include and how they are to be handled. The rules are covered in O.C.G.A. § 34-9-15 and Board Rule 15.
The best-case scenario is that the insurer will admit liability and offer a fair standard settlement. This doesn’t always happen, however. When the insurer denies the claim and the employer denies liability, a no-liability stipulation might be best. Injured workers sometimes fare better when they settle substantial no-liability claims, rather than taking their cases to the State Board of Workers’ Compensation.
Many employees have a hard time agreeing to no-liability stipulations. Even though the employer is agreeing to pay compensation, the document essentially says that the worker is lying about his/her injury. Agreeing that the employer isn’t liable for your injury (especially when you know that it is) can be disconcerting. But remember, the ultimate goal is for you to obtain the medical care and benefits you need, and sometimes a no-liability stipulation is the best way to achieve that.
Procedure for Approval
The process of settling a workers’ compensation claim begins with notifying your employer of the injury. This must be done within 30 days of the injury. Ideally, this is when the negotiations begin. The employer should (and usually does) at this point begin taking responsibility for medical expenses. If there is a dispute over costs and treatments, that may become an issue later. However, notice of the injury generally gets the ball rolling.
The next step is filing the claim with the Workers’ Compensation Board. Claims should be filed with the Board as soon as possible, and are barred if not filed within one year of the injury. The employer then has an opportunity raise any issues that are in dispute. Negotiations between the employer and the employee over any disputes may take place during this time. Because of the no-fault aspect of workers’ compensation insurance, the disputed facts are most often not over whether the employee is owed compensation, but how much compensation and for how long.
Ideally, the parties will agree to a fair and reasonable settlement. When such a settlement is reached, it must be submitted in writing to the board for approval. The board will consider several factors to determine whether the settlement will be approved. If they settlement is approved, the issue ends there. If it is not, negotiations will continue or the case may go to trial.
Basis for Disapproval of Settlements
Settlements may be rejected by the board if there is a genuine controversy of fact affecting the rights of one of the parties. For this reason, stipulated settlements submitted to the board “must state with specificity the legal and/or factual matters about which the parties cannot agree.” (Stipulated Settlements, p. 2). This allows the board to determine whether the terms of the settlement unduly favor one party or another given the potential outcome of the disagreement. The terms of the settlement must fairly correspond to the rights of the parties within the range of the possibilities for the facts in dispute. For instance, if there is a disagreement over the need for long-term medical care, and the settlement requires the employee to return to work immediately or does not provide for paying for such care, approval is unlikely to be granted, because it would affect the worker’s potential rights if the case were to hypothetically resolve in his or her favor. If, however, the terms reflect a compromise that accounts for either possibility with some give and take on either side (such as four weeks of recovery time instead of six weeks, or some other care option that is reasonable in lieu of long-term care), the settlement will likely be viewed as reasonable.
The point is that a settlement reflecting a one-sided outcome despite disputed facts is unlikely to be approved. This prevents one party from steamrolling the other in the process. Employers and their insurers are generally in a better position financially than the employee, and consequently have more bargaining power. Employees can find themselves pressured by dire financial straits to accept unfavorable settlements. The approval process exists to protect employees from this pressure and ensure that their rights are vindicated at the bargaining table.
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Consulting a Work Injury Attorney in Atlanta
When there are disputes over workers’ compensation claims, professional discernment, and careful consideration are of utmost importance. You’ll want to speak with a workers’ compensation attorney in Atlanta about your concerns, review your settlement options, and work together to resolve the case in your favor.
For a free consultation with an attorney in Atlanta who advocates for workers’ rights, contact Bader Scott Injury Lawyers, today at (404) 888-8888.