Section 8(i) Settlements Are Final and Cannot Be Modified

In this Benefits Review Board case, Claimant appealed the decision of the Administrative Law Judge approving her Section 8(i) settlement application on the grounds that her attorney and Employer’s attorney conspired against her to defraud her of benefits under the Act.  The findings of fact and conclusions of law of the administrative law judge will only be disturbed if they are not supported by substantial evidence, are not rational, and are not in accordance with the law.  The Benefit Review Board affirmed the Administrative Law Judge’s Decision and Order.

Claimant was injured on July 3, 2007.  Employer paid temporary total disability benefits.  Claimant subsequently settled her claim under the Longshore Act pursuant to a Section 8(i) settlement agreement for $22,500.00.  She also settled a Virginia state workers compensation claim for the same accident for an additional $22,500.00.  Claimant’s net recovery under both statutes was $36,000.00.  In exchange for an additional $50.00, Claimant signed a general release agreeing to release Employer from all claims arising under nine statutes including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

In 2009, Claimant moved to amend her Section 8(i) settlement.  The administrative law judge refused to modify the settlement agreement under Section 22 of the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act.  Without representation, Claimant appealed the administrative law judge’s decision asserting that her attorney and employer’s counsel conspired to deprive her of her rights because she did not receive the amount of benefits from the settlement that she thought she would, her signature was fraudulently affixed to the documents, and she was deceived as to the release of her right to pursue a claim with the EEOC.

The BRB affirmed the administrative law judge’s finding that although Claimant presented evidence she was not homeless at the time of the settlement, her housing status had no connection to counsel’s representation, and Claimant did not establish how this information was used to defraud her.  Further, the BRB affirmed the administrative law judge’s finding that while Claimant allegedly did not receive the amount of settlement proceeds she expected, the administrative law judge rationally concluded the Claimant’s confusion did not establish fraud or mental incapacity warranting setting aside or modifying the settlement.  Claimant further contended she didn’t sign the settlement documents; she signed a separate piece of paper that was affixed to the settlement documents.  The administrative law judge found no merit in Claimant’s contentions, and the BRB affirmed.  With respect to the general release and Claimant’s right to pursue a claim with the EEOC, the administrative law judge and the BRB found neither had authority to modify a settlement pertaining to the release of rights granted by other statutes as it is not “in respect of” a claim under the Longshore Act.

The administrative law judge’s findings that Claimant did not substantiate her claim that Employer and her own attorney conspired to defraud her of benefits under the Act was rational and supported by substantial evidence.  Moreover, the administrative law judge correctly concluded Section 8(i) settlements are final and cannot be modified.  The BRB found no merit to Claimant’s appeal and affirmed the findings of the administrative law judge.

Cooper v. Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Inc., BRB No. 14-0039 (Aug. 5, 2014)