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Injured worker’s unrelated death doesn’t negate settlement agreement


A South Carolina appeals court on Wednesday ruled that an employer and an insurer could not back out of a settlement agreement just because the worker died before the agreement was filed with the Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Gus King suffered injuries while working for Pierside Boatworks in November 2011 and in May 2014, the Workers’ Compensation Commission awarded Mr. King permanent and total disability benefits, which were paid in a lump sum, and medical benefits for the rest of his life, according to Ex Parte Horne, filed in the South Carolina Court of Appeals in Columbia.

In June 2016, Mr. King attended mediation with his employer and its insurer. They agreed to settle Mr. King’s entitlement to future medical benefits. Seven days later, Mr. King died in an unrelated car accident. The same day, the insurer sent his attorney a letter with the settlement check, indicating they were in the process of finalizing the paperwork. The insurer requested that the attorney hold the check until the commission approved the settlement.

Five days later, the insurer informed the attorney that a stop payment had been issued on the check and that it was determining how Mr. King’s death affected the “unfinalized settlement.”

The insurer then purposed to withdraw from the settlement, believing Mr. King’s claim abated at his death. The insurer never filed the agreement with the commission.

Mr. King’s attorney attempted to file the agreement and have it enforced. A workers compensation commissioner found the agreement was not enforceable because Mr. King never executed it or signed a release. The commission affirmed.

In reversing and remanding, the appeals court said amended state law no longer requires the commission’s approval of a settlement agreement when both parties are represented by counsel. It simply requires the employer to file a copy of the settlement agreement with the commission.

The court said it seemed the only reason the insurer did not file the agreement was that Mr. King unexpectedly died.

WorkCompCentral is a sister publication of Business Insurance. More stories here.