Most people settle their workers' comp claims with the expectation their injuries would heal. Unfortunately, sometimes things happen and the person experiences additional and often unexpected medical problems related to the injury. Since their claims have already been settled and closed, people in this situation may wonder if it's possible they can reopen their cases and get more money. It depends on the circumstances. Here's what you need to know about this issue.
One thing that will have a major impact on whether you can get more money for your worsened condition is whether your settlement included a "clincher" clause. Also known as a "full and final release" or "compromise and release", this clause basically states the only money you'll get from workers' compensation insurance for your injury is what you negotiated for at the time your case was open. Essentially, this clause forces you to give up any rights you may have had to future compensation related to the same injury.
Before you do anything else, peruse the settlement papers you received for your claim to determine if it includes this clause. Don't be disheartened if it does. It may still be possible to defeat this clause in a few different ways.
First, clincher deals aren't legal in every state. For instance, Minnesota doesn't allow final release agreements except in very rare instances. It's a good idea to contact an attorney who can help you research the laws in your state to determine if the clause is allowed. If it isn't, then you could file a lawsuit to have the court overturn the clause so you can reopen your case and request more money for your ongoing medical costs.
Second, even in states where clincher deals are allowed, these agreements often must be approved by a judge or the workers' comp board. For example, the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board must approve all compromise and release agreements in California. If the agreement wasn't approved or the contract doesn't adhere to the requirements of the law, it may be possible for you to get the settlement voided and reopen the case so you can negotiate a new agreement.
A third way to get around this clause is to prove there was some type of fraud involved in the settlement of your claim. For instance, if your employer lied about the facts which resulted in you obtaining less money than you would've been awarded, you can have the clause set aside and get your case reopened. It's important to note that this can be challenging to do, especially if several years have passed since the case was heard. It's essential that you have evidence of wrongdoing before proceeding with this option.
Statute of Limitations
If your contract doesn't have a full and final release clause, then you are typically able to reopen your case to get more money for a worsened injury. The challenge here, though, is that the state may limit how long you have to reopen your case after it's been closed. In Washington, for instance, you have seven years from the date your claim was first closed to petition the court to reopen it.
Additionally, you typically must be able to prove that your condition deteriorated significantly since the time when you settled your claim. This means you may need to obtain written or oral testimony from healthcare experts who can adequately explain what happened to you and why you require additional medical care.
For more information about reopening your workers' comp case after it's been settled, contact an attorney. They'll help you decide how to best approach the situation.