Like most legal claims, the majority of workers’ compensation cases settle before a hearing. This means that your employer, or its insurance company, will likely make a settlement offer to you at some point in your case. In this article, we explain some of the things that you should consider before settling your workers’ compensation case.
At What Point in My Workers' Comp Case Should I Consider Settlement?
In most cases, you shouldn’t consider settlement offers until you have reached “maximum medical improvement” (MMI). This is the stage in your treatment where your doctor has found that your condition has plateaued and that you’re not likely to improve with further treatment. In other words, you’re as good as you’re going to get.
The reason for waiting until this point is simple: You won’t be able to accurately estimate the value of your case until you know the full impact of your injuries. Will you be able to return to work? Will you have full use of your injured body part? Will you need future medical care? All of these questions must be answered before you can get a feel for whether the settlement offer is fair one.
In many states, your temporary disability benefits will continue until you reach maximum medical improvement. If you settle your case before reaching MMI, you may also be cutting your temporary disability benefits short. And, the value of those benefits might not be accounted for in the settlement offer.
What Are the Benefits of a Workers' Comp Settlement?
One of the advantages of settlement is that it removes the uncertainty that comes with a hearing. If there is a legitimate dispute about the extent of your injuries, it may be worth engaging the insurance company in settlement talks. For example, suppose your treating doctor gave you a 50% disability rating. In response, the insurance company has you attend a medical examination by a doctor of its choice, and that doctor assigns you a 20% disability rating. Assuming both doctors are reputable and have all of the relevant information, going to a hearing is a risk for both you and the insurance company. In that case, you may want to agree to a disability rating somewhere in the middle as the basis for the settlement.
Another benefit of settlement is that you can ask the insurance company to pay for a portion of medical treatment that you may end up not needing. For example, your doctor might find that it is 25% likely that you will need surgery on your back. The insurance company may agree to pay for a portion of the surgery as part of the settlement. Since it’s 75% likely that you won’t need the surgery, you will probably end up keeping that money.
Settling your workers’ comp case can also provide less tangible benefits. For example, it may provide you with much needed closure or peace of mind. It will also save you the time and energy of going through the remaining steps of the workers’ compensation process. For example, you won’t need to prepare for and testify in your workers’ comp hearing, which can be time-consuming and stressful.
What Are the Drawbacks to a Workers' Comp Settlement?
Once you’ve signed a settlement agreement, you have entered into a binding contract. This means that you can’t change your mind a few weeks or months down the road and go back to the insurance company for more money. In some cases, the insurance company will agree to pay for any future medical expenses that come up after you settle. However, more often, the insurance company will insist on a full and final release of all claims, including the right to future medical care.
Because of the finality of a settlement, you should be confident that your condition isn’t going to get worse after you settle your case. And you shouldn’t let your employer, the insurance company, or even your attorney, pressure you to settle when you’re not ready. A recent study by the Minnesota Department of Labor & Industry found that 41% of workers surveyed reported a decline in their conditions after settling their cases. Some of these workers said that they felt pressured into settling too early.
Consult With a Workers' Comp Lawyer
Whether a particular settlement offer is good for your case depends on several factors, including how much is being offered, whether your disability rating is undisputed, and whether you’ll incur future medical bills. These factors always depend on the particular facts of each worker’s case. For that reason, you should consult with a workers' comp lawyer before agreeing to settle your workers’ comp case. A lawyer will be able to evaluate the settlement offer and let you know whether it will fairly compensate you for all of your losses.