by Manuel A. Ruiz –
As time passes, we are handling less and less pre-January 1, 2013 injuries. As such, we are going to be encountering more instances where settling a voucher becomes an issue.
Per Labor Code §4658.7, for injuries that occurred on or after January 1, 2013, if an employer does not offer permanent regular, modified or alternative work to an injured worker with permanent disability, the employer is required to issue a $6,000.00 Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit (SJDB) voucher. The voucher cannot be settled for cash. Time and time again, however, cases are settled when there is a good faith dispute as to whether the applicant is entitled to a voucher.
In Beltran v. Structural Steel Fabricators, (2016) 2016 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 366, the applicant filed a cumulative trauma claim. The defendant denied the claim as being post-termination. The parties had submitted a Compromise and Release which included Beltran’s potential entitlement to a SJDB voucher.
The WCJ suspended action on the settlement agreement, noting that the labor code prohibited SJDB settlements. She amended the settlement to exclude the voucher. The defendant sought reconsideration.
On reconsideration, the WCAB ordered the Compromise and Release be amended to recognize a good faith dispute existed as to injury AOE/COE and/or liability for injury which could, if resolved against the applicant, defeat Beltran’s right to recover benefits. An order was issued approving the parties’ Compromise and Release as presented. The panel agreed with the argument that where there is a good faith dispute as to the compensability of a claim of injury, the parties should be permitted to settle claimant’s alleged entitlement to the SJDB voucher.
The panel relied on a similar situation regarding the settlement of vocational rehabilitation benefits that was addressed in Thomas vs. Sports Chalet (1977) 42 Cal. Comp. Cases 625 (Appeals Board En Banc). In this case, the parties settled by way of a Compromise and Release with provisions settling vocational rehabilitation rights. The court found that before the settlement of vocational rehabilitation could be permitted, the trier of fact had to thoroughly review the record to determine whether “a serious and good faith issue exists to justify such a release”.
Now, with the combination of Thomas and Beltran, when the SJDB voucher is settled with regard to a claim that was filed post 1/1/13 date of injury Compromise and Release, the WCJ must determine whether the case involves “serious and good faith issues” that could lead to the entire defeat of the worker’s entitlement to benefits. Basically, the WCJ will have to determine whether or not, based on the evidence, the worker could be left with the complete denial of benefits should the case be fully adjudicated. Generally speaking, this is not a difficult proof.
In a sense, there are two winners in this situation. Defendants are able to obtain the complete release of benefits and close the file. Injured workers can receive some compensation for a benefit he or she might not otherwise receive (thereby making a C&R more enticing to the applicant and to applicant’s attorney!).
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