So there's a settlement on the table! Finally! It has likely been a long road of treating appointments with workers' compensation doctors and in-depth phone calls with your attorney -- maybe even a few court appearances and deposition. Now that you're getting close to the light at the end of the tunnel, there are likely a number of questions you are asking yourself. How do you know if you should accept the offer? What are the right questions to ask your lawyer or Workers' Compensation case manager? These questions should help you figure out if the settlement on the table is right for you.
1. Is This Everything, or Do I Get More Later?
California Workers Compensation Claims settle in two main ways, a Compromise and Release or by Stipulation. There is a big difference. A Compromise and Release aka a C&R is for the settlement of your Permanent Disability, Future Medical Treatment, and for anything else that might be owed to you. This is paid in one lump sum directly from the insurance company, minus any attorneys' fees (generally 15%).
A Stipulation (Stips) is very different. You get paid for your Permanent Disability, but your medical treatment stays open for life for the particular injury. That money is paid directly to the medical providers for your additional treatment. Because Open Medical Awards still go through the Workers' Compensation system -- which, as you well know, comes with a host of issues -- most of our clients opt to try for a full Compromise and Release. Some insurance companies never want to do C&Rs, and some only want to do C&Rs. Just make sure to ask and clarify with your attorney which one is being offered.
2. How Much Will I Get After It's All Said and Done? Do I Owe Anyone Else?
Always ask what the net amount will be after attorneys' fees are deducted. A good California Workers' Compensation should make sure that all medical expenses incurred for your Workers' Compensation treatment are taken care of by the insurance company either prior to settlement or included in the settlement. You shouldn't owe anyone. If you aren't sure if this is the case, just ask.
3. How Long Will it Take to Process the Settlement?
Workers' Compensation defense attorneys and insurance companies move at very slow speeds, even when settling a case. Ask for an approximate timeline of how long it will take to get everything processed once you say yes to the settlement. Generally, it should take a week or two to get the settlement agreement to your attorney from the other side. When everyone has signed, your settlement must be approved by a Workers' Compensation judge, which can take up to two weeks. Once it is approved, an insurance company has up to 30 days to mail your check.
4. Can I Get More if We Keep Fighting?
This is always an important question to ask your attorney! Attorneys are paid to fight and give the best advice they know how. There are many factors that go into whether or not to accept a case. Some clients will take less money because a settlement offer comes early, and they want the case to be over. Some want to take the case all the way through trial.
An experienced and respected attorney can often maximize a case through careful preparation and good negotiation. The offer your lawyer gets you can often be higher than what you get from a trial -- especially if you draw a bad judge. If your attorney says that they believe a lot more is available, keep asking the questions, but trust their expertise. What's the likelihood that you will get more? Although an attorney can never guarantee an outcome, their experience can give them insight into what may happen later.
5. Will This Be Approved by the WCAB Judge?
California Workers' Compensation claims require a judge to approve the settlement. There are so many unscrupulous attorneys out there that judges want to make sure that a case settlement meets certain criteria before it is approved. There are times when even experienced Workers' Compensation attorneys will have a settlement rejected by the court, but this is a rare occurrence. Most experienced and upstanding attorneys won't even try to get a bad settlement approved.
An expert in negotiations once said that you can always tell a good settlement when both parties walk away a bit happy and a bit unhappy. The key is to make sure that your attorney is maximizing your case. Remember, your Workers' Compensation claim belongs to you, not your attorney. Attorneys can negotiate on your behalf, but they cannot accept a settlement without your approval. Make sure you get your questions answered and you are comfortable before you accept.
If you have a case, don't hesitate to get help! Contact Pacific Workers’ Compensation Law Center to schedule a free consultation today!