In a recent workers’ compensation case, the Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the decision of the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ), finding that, based upon the language in a prior settlement agreement, the injured employee was vested with the right to bring a second claim for injuries arising out of the same work-related accident under the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act. Robertson v. City of Natchitoches, 2021 La. App. LEXIS 1637, 21-319 (La. App. 3 Cir. 11/03/21).
Robertson v. City of Natchitoches – Background
The injured employee, Firal Robertson, worked as a school resource officer at Natchitoches Central High School. On April 16, 2015, Mr. Robertson was attempting to stop an altercation between students when he lost his balance and he fell to ground. According to his Form 1008/Disputed Claim for Compensation, Mr. Robertson experienced immediate pain in his knees and right hip; both of which were listed as the injured body parts. On November 22, 2016, the parties entered into a settlement agreement and the claim was formally dismissed.
On July 29, 2019, Mr. Robertson filed a second claim based upon the same April 2015 accident. Therein, Mr. Robertson included his knees, right hip, as well as his back, as the injured body parts. He also claimed entitlement for treatment of his right knee.
In response, the City filed an exception of Res Judicata, arguing that Mr. Robertson was barred from filing his claim due to the settlement agreement was entered into by the parties. Following a hearing on the matter, the OWJ sustained the employer’s exception and dismissed Mr. Robertson’s claim.
Third Circuit Court of Appeal Ruling
On review, the Third Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the decision of the WCJ, finding that the settlement agreement and order of approval included language that reserved Mr. Robertson’s right to future workers’ compensation benefits.
In its decision, the court looked to the language contained in the agreement, which expressly stated that “[employer] will accept Claimant’s April 16, 2015 right hip and low back injury as compensable . . . thereby letting him reserve his future rights to workers’ compensation benefits.” Language accepting the right knee as compensable and releasing the City from same was not included. Subsequent sections similarly contained language reserving Mr. Robertson’s right to future benefits under the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act.
The court noted that, despite the fact that the City was aware of Mr. Robertson’s knee injury, the agreement only released the City from Mr. Robertson’s right hip and low back injury, thereby reserving Mr. Robertson’s right to file a claim for future benefits for his knee. Simply put, the City could have plainly listed all injuries arising out of the accident, but failed to do so. Therefore, Mr. Robertson was entitled to seek benefits for future benefits relating to his knee injuries and the City’s exception was reversed.