Settling Workers’ Compensation Claims When a Worker Can’t Return to Work

Managing Member Alan G. Brackett and Associate Ava M. Wolf are co-authors of an “Attorney Analysis” workers’ compensation column for Reuters Legal News and Westlaw Today. Their most recent article, “Show Me the Money: Settling Workers’ Compensation Claims When a Worker Can’t Return to Work,” was published on February 15, 2024. In the article, they answer the question: what happens when a worker who was injured on the job does not recover, or recovers but cannot return to their job of injury?

Settling Workers’ Compensation Claims When a Worker Can’t Return to Work

The objective of every workers’ compensation system is to provide an injured worker with reasonable and necessary medical care and wage replacement while they recover from an injury. The expectation is that when recovery is reached, the worker will return to their job of injury and benefits will cease. That happens with the vast majority of injuries. The systems work. But what happens when the worker does not recover, or recovers but cannot return to their job of injury?

Workers’ compensation systems vary as to the continuing benefits available to the worker. From the perspective of the employer and their workers’ compensation carrier, their new objective is typically to get the claim settled and off their books. For the injured worker, they want to know what they’ll receive for their injury. As the character Rod Tidwell so succinctly stated in 1996’s “Jerry Maguire”: “Show me the money!”

Most systems allow workers’ compensation claims to be resolved by agreement of the parties, subject to approval by the appropriate administrative body or by the courts. The standard for approval of a workers’ compensation claim is typically either “reasonableness,” “adequacy,” or being “in the best interest of the parties.” These terms are generally interchangeable when determining the value of a settlement. The idea is to make sure the employer and its carrier are providing sufficient compensation for the worker so that the worker is not dependent on the state or federal government for support or medical care.

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