Choosing the right workers’ compensation settlement requires legal advice that is tailored to your needs
Sometimes, a California workers’ compensation lawyer will step into a case to help resolve a specific issue. For example, a workers’ compensation claims administrator might have miscalculated the amount of temporary disability benefits that should be paid while an injured worker is unable to work. By providing additional evidence that the claims administrator should consider (such as additional wages earned in part-time employment), the lawyer can persuade the claims administrator to pay the correct amount.
When injured workers ask a Santa Rosa lawyer to settle their workers’ compensation claim, however, they are usually attempting to resolve a claim for permanent disability benefits. Although all workers’ compensation claims are resolved eventually, some claims need to be decided in a contested hearing. Most of the time however, injured workers agree to settle their permanent disability claims.
Benefits of Settling
As mentioned, not all cases settle. If a claims administrator believes for instance, that the injured worker’s level of permanent disability is lower than what the injured worker claims, the matter may need to be resolved by a workers’ compensation judge at a formal hearing. Calculating the level of permanent disability is not an exact science, and the extent of functional impairment is never perfectly clear. Permanent disability benefits are based on the extent of one’s functional impairment, as well as how that impairment affects the ability to earn income. As such, a resolution of the issue often involves compromise.
Workers’ Compensation Settlements generally are based on negotiations and achieved in order to avoid having the issue decided by a workers’ compensation judge at a contested hearing. Leaving an injured worker’s fate in the hands of a judge can sometimes be a gamble. Injured workers and insurance companies generally prefer to avoid that risk by agreeing to a settlement. Settlements also allow claims to be resolved more quickly and at less expense than litigating the claim in a contested hearing.
Stipulated Findings and Award
One way to settle a claim for permanent disability benefits is to agree on the facts, including the disability rating, and to allow the workers’ compensation judge to award disability benefits based on those facts. Instead of deciding the facts after a contested hearing, the judge bases an award on the facts that both sides agree to. Everybody then agrees on the outcome so neither side is taking a risk.
The key advantage of settling with Stipulated Findings is that the award will include the payment of future medical expenses that are related to the workplace injury. In addition, if there is some indication that the permanent disability will worsen, an injured worker has the right to apply for increased benefits during the five year period following her date of injury.
The disadvantage of settling with Stipulated Findings is that the permanent disability benefits are paid in biweekly installment payments. The injured worker receives a payment every two weeks until the benefits are exhausted.
Compromise and Release
Many injured workers prefer to settle their workers’ compensation claims with a Compromise and Release. Here they receive a lump sum payment in exchange for closing out their case in its entirety. Instead of receiving the permanent disability payments in installments, they receive it in one lump sum.
The downside to a Compromise and Release is that it is a final settlement. It relieves the insurance company of the obligation to pay the injured worker’s future medical expenses. If the permanent disability worsens, the injured worker cannot ask for more money later. In exchange for eliminating the risk of paying more money in the future, and not having to pay future medical costs, insurance companies are willing to pay a larger lump sum to encourage settlements by compromise and release.
A Compromise and Release can be beneficial if an injured worker is unlikely to need future medical care (or is able to pay for that care in some other fashion) and if the permanent disability is unlikely to worsen. A Santa Rosa workers’ compensation attorney can usually negotiate a more favorable settlement for injured workers who want to accept a lump sum than they would receive if the benefits were paid in installments.
However, a Compromise and Release isn’t for everyone. Injured workers who are likely to need more medical care for their injuries and whose disabling conditions are likely to deteriorate might be better served by settling with Stipulated Findings.
Choosing a Settlement
Choosing the right settlement depends on the needs of the individual injured worker. Those needs are largely, but not entirely, driven by one’s medical condition and by a doctor’s assessment of the future medical care that will be necessary. How much risk an injured worker wants to take and his need for immediate funds will also affect his choice.
Injured workers can make the best settlement decision when they have sound legal guidance. A workers’ compensation lawyer at Santa Rosa’s Kneisler & Schondel can negotiate a settlement that best serves your needs. To discuss the settlement of your workers’ compensation claim, call (707) 542-5132 or submit a question by using our online contact form.