Most people who find themselves involved in a workers’ compensation case because of an injury at work eventually find themselves considering a settlement. It may very well be in your best interest to accept a settlement offer, especially if you have mounting bills or reason to believe that you might lose if your case advances to a hearing.
Accepting a settlement, though, means you will give up some of your rights. Before going to the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission (VWC) to submit a settlement petition, it is critical that you fully understand the terms of the agreement you are making.
How Does A Workers’ Compensation Settlement Work?
In the state of Virginia, workers’ compensation settlements are generally full and final. This means that when you accept a settlement you are taking a lump sum payment in exchange for giving up your right to any future benefits or medical care related to your injury. Once this type of settlement is finalized you won’t be able to reopen your claim or ask for more money later—even if your condition becomes unexpectedly worse.
It is somewhat rare, but sometimes the insurance company will agree to what is known as a limited settlement or compromise settlement. An example of this might be that you accept a lump sum payment and give up your right to future disability benefits but continue to receive payments for future medical treatment.
Most workers’ compensation settlements in Virginia result in a lump sum payment but insurance companies will also sometimes agree to structured settlements. This type of settlement is more common for workers who have suffered serious injuries that will require long-term care and treatment. In a structured settlement, you will receive regularly scheduled payments. Payments are usually made monthly but may also be yearly.
When Can a Workers’ Compensation Claim Be Settled?
In Virginia, it is possible to settle a workers’ compensation claim at any time. If you settle too early, though, you run the risk of undervaluing your claim while you’re still going through the healing process.
It is generally recommended to hold off on accepting any type of settlement until your doctor says that your condition has stabilized and is not likely to improve any further with additional treatment. Settling before that point could, for example, leave you holding the bill for an expensive, previously unexpected surgery.
How Much Can I Expect to Receive in a Settlement?
No two workers’ compensation settlements will be exactly the same. The final amount you receive and how it is paid to you will come as the result of negotiations between you (or more likely, your lawyer) and the insurance company. During negotiations, it’s imperative that you understand the value of your claim to be sure that you don’t accept an amount below what you’re actually entitled to.
Understanding the value of your workers’ comp claim basically comes down to calculating the lifetime value of your benefits—which is usually easier said than done. Then, you also need to consider any problems you might have with your claim such as conflicting medical reports about the cause of an injury or whether a disability will be permanent or not.
This will give you an approximate idea of what a fair settlement might be, but it is highly recommended that you speak with an attorney before accepting an offer. Making a proper evaluation can be difficult and an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer will know exactly what to look for and how it affects your claim’s valuation.
How Does A Settlement Become Finalized?
A settlement agreement must be approved by the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission. Once you come to an agreement with the insurance company you will need to complete a series of documents and submit them to the Commission.
- A petition outlining the complete terms of the settlement
- A notarized affidavit stating that you understand all of the terms
- A medical report stating your current condition
- A statement explaining your attorney’s fees
- A proposed settlement order
If you are acting on your own, without the representation of a lawyer, you will also need to provide information regarding your education, income, and medical treatment. The commission then reviews the presented documentation and determines if the terms of the settlement are in your best interest.
Is It Possible to Reverse My Decision?
Worker’s compensation settlements are voluntary. Neither the insurance company or the VWC can force you to accept a settlement.
Once a settlement agreement has been approved, though, it is difficult to cancel. There is a 30-day appeal period in Virginia that allows you to request the cancellation of your agreement, but the request will usually not be granted unless it can be proven that there was some type of fraud or both you and the insurance company made the deal based on incorrect information.
This is just one more reason to be absolutely certain that you understand everything in the terms of a settlement agreement before you consider accepting it. The best way to make sure that you receive everything you’re entitled to is to speak with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney before you agree to any settlement offer.
If you have questions about making a workers’ compensation claim, negotiating or accepting a settlement, or your rights as an injured worker, we’d be happy to speak with you. We’ll analyze your case, explain your rights, and show you how we can help you move forward with your workers’ comp claim and your life. Contact us for a free consultation.
About the Author: Michele Lewane
The Injured Workers Law Firm is a Richmond, Virginia based firm solely focused on serving clients with workers' compensation claims in Virginia. If you have questions about your benefits or if you would like more information on the Virginia workers’ compensation system, order our book, “The Ultimate Guide to Workers’ Compensation in Virginia” , or call our office today (804) 755-7755.