As many of you may know big changes have been made in our State Workers’ Compensation laws this legislative session. The major piece of this, you may have already heard about – is the provision for Claim Resolution Structured Settlement Agreements (CRSSAs), basically a way for employers and the Department of Labor & Industries to get claims off their books more cheaply and quickly.
While there are some very minor and limited protections in the law; injured workers need to be very careful with this and definitely consult an experienced workers’ compensation attorney if they are even considering entering into one of these agreements with the Department of L&I or Self-Insured Employer.
By entering into one of these agreements, the injured worker may get some fast cash, but they will be giving up not only immediate benefits they would otherwise be entitled to, but very important and critical benefits they otherwise would have received if they did not enter into one of these agreements.
Highlights/lowlights from the new option for “Claim Resolution Structured Settlement Agreements” (CRSSAs).
• Allows certain injured workers to initiate “claim resolution” with structured settlements in order to pursue work or retirement goals independent of the workers’ compensation system in exchange for permanently giving up all their rights and benefits for all time on the claim except medical treatment.
• Starting 1/1/12, IWs who are at least 55 years old on or after 1/1/12, 53 years old on or after 1/1/15, or 50 years old on or after 4/1/16, may choose from the following:
a) Continue to receive all benefits they are entitled to under Title 51 RCW;
b) Participate in vocational retraining if eligible; or
c) To initiate and agree to a resolution of their claim with structured settlement
• The parties (defined as claimant, employer and DLI) to an allowed claim may initiate and agree to resolve a claim with a structured settlement for all benefits other than medical treatment.
• CRSSA’s once final cannot be appealed or changed: A CRSSA that meets the conditions of this new law and that becomes final and binding (after the expiration of the 30 day revocation period) is binding on all parties as to its terms and the injuries or occupational diseases to which the agreement applies. A CRSSA that becomes final and binding is not subject to appeal.
• Claims resolved by CRSSA may be reopened for medical treatment only! Claims closed pursuant to a CRSSA can be reopened pursuant to RCW 51.32.160 for medical treatment only. This means an injured worker who succeeds in reopening a claim “resolved” under a CRSSA because their condition got worse, will not be able to get time loss compensation (wage replacement), will not be able to get any increased permanent partial disability award and/or will not be eligible for pension/total permanent disability benefits under the same claim or claims for which a CRSSA has been approved by the Board and has become final. This is true no matter how much worse the condition under the “resolved” claim has become, you are sunk!
• Short term gain ($$) may = probable long term and significant loss of rights and benefits!
• If you take one thing away from reading this blog entry, it should be: CONSULT AN EXPERIENCED WORKERS’ COMPENSATION ATTORNEY BEFORE YOU SIGN AWAY YOUR RIGHTS FOR CASH.
Note: These changes take effect immediately after the Governor signs the bill into law, which is expected to happen very soon.
Written by: Andy Myers, Attorney