Central Baptist Hospital v. May, No. 2014-CA-001228-WC (Ky.App. 2014) (not to be published): The ALJ has the discretion to determine whether a settlement agreement is in the best interests of the claimant and whether it constitutes a true meeting of the minds.
In June of 2012, claimant May sustained a herniated disc at T8-T9. The case was fully litigated. A hearing took place on June 12, 2013, but a week before the hearing, the claimant submitted reports of two physicians. Proof was then extended two weeks beyond the hearing to allow the employer to cross-examine the witnesses.
The case stood submitted on June 25, 2013, but the employer did not cross-examine the witnesses. On July 24, 2013, the employer submitted a proposed settlement agreement to claimant. Claimant requested a longer period of TTD to be paid under the agreement and submitted proof of such to the employer’s counsel on August 13, 2013. The employer submitted a revised agreement to claimant on September 4, 2013. The ALJ issued an opinion on September 11, 2013 (before the agreement was signed) awarding PPD benefits with application of the x3 factor under KRS 342.730(1)(c)(1).
On September 13, 2013, without knowledge of the ALJ’s decision, the claimant signed the revised agreement. (NOTE: She had previously signed it on September 12, 2013, but did so on the wrong line and, further, due to her attorney’s illness had not had a change to fully discuss the terms of the agreement.) On September 16, 2013, the agreement was forwarded to the ALJ. Soon thereafter the employer filed a motion and affidavit to set aside the September 11, 2013 opinion and to enforce the settlement agreement.
On rehearing, the ALJ determined there was no meeting of the minds, essentially because claimant was not aware of the settlement agreement at the time she signed it.
The employer appealed arguing, among other issues, that the ALJ should have approved the settlement agreement. The Workers Compensation Board and the Court of Appeals affirmed deferring to the ALJ’s factual determination that the claimant never truly assented to the agreement.