Georgia workers compensation settlements require approval. This means that you and the insurance company cannot just agree to settle your case. For a settlement to be official and final, the Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation has to approve your agreement.
Many people have questions about how the approval process works. In this article, I will discuss the approval process as well as the steps that occur in most settlements. I will also talk about how long it takes for the State Board to approve a settlement.
How do I reach a workers compensation settlement?
You cannot force the insurance company to settle your workers compensation case. They cannot force you to settle either.
To reach a settlement, you or your attorney must negotiate a settlement. Before you consider negotiating a settlement, you need to make sure you understand what all should go into settlement or have an attorney representing you who does.
Once you settle your case and the settlement is approved by the State Board of Workers’ Compensation, it becomes final. You cannot go back and change it later.
Since you only get one chance, you need to make sure you do it right. Make sure to read this article that discusses many of the things you should think about before you start negotiating with the insurance company.
What paperwork do I have to sign?
Reaching a settlement will usually mean agreeing on a number. For example, you might offer to settle your workers’ compensation case for $25,000 and the insurance company might agree to do that.
At that point, you have a tentative settlement. But, that settlement does not become official until everyone signs the paperwork and the State Board of Workers’ Compensation approves it.
If you have read my articles about workers’ compensation forms, you know that the State Board of Workers’ Compensation has created many standard forms for Georgia workers’ compensation cases. But, the State Board has not created a form for settlements. This means there is no standard document that is used for all workers compensation settlements.
The document settling your workers’ compensation case is usually known as a “stipulation and agreement” or “stip” for short. There is no standard version of this document.
If you do not have an attorney, the insurance company’s attorney will almost always prepare the stipulation and agreement. They will then send the stipulation and agreement to you and ask you to sign it and return it. They will likely ask you to sign other settlement documents as well.
Always be careful about what you sign. All of these documents you sign can affect your rights in the future.
The basic idea of a workers compensation settlement is that the insurance company pays you a certain amount of money and you give up your workers compensation case. But, the documents you sign will sometimes do more than that.
Can I make changes to the workers compensation settlement documents?
Yes. The State Board of Workers’ Compensation does not require a certain form for workers compensation settlements. I almost always make several changes to settlement documents I review for my clients. I want to make sure these documents treat my clients fairly.
When I handle a workers compensation settlement, I tell the other attorney what changes I want to make. I almost always get these changes worked out.
The important thing to remember is that you do not have to sign any document that is unfair. Remember, a workers compensation settlement is not final until the State Board approves it. So, if the language in the documents is not fair, you can always choose not to move forward with the settlement.
What about the other settlement documents?
The attorney for the insurance company may send other settlement documents as well. You might see the following documents:
- A general release
- A covenant not to appeal
- A resignation and agreement not to reapply
- A confidentiality agreement
- An indemnification agreement
- A document or affidavit regarding your Social Security Disability or Medicare status
- A Medicare Set-Aside agreement
- A throwaway sheet
Why does the insurance company send these other documents when you just want to settle your workers compensation claim? Many of these documents have you release other types of claims you could have. Having you release these claims provides the employer and insurance company with some protection.
Other documents obligate you to do certain things like keep the settlement confidential or pay money to the insurance company for violating an agreement. These provide the employer and insurance company some protection as well.
Do you have to sign these other documents? Not necessarily. The insurance company would probably like you to give up your rights. You would probably prefer to keep as many rights as you can.
If you do not want to sign the documents, you do not have to sign them. However, the insurance company might refuse to settle your workers’ compensation case without these other documents.
What if we cannot agree on the changes to the settlement documents?
If you cannot agree on the changes, then the settlement falls apart. Your workers compensation case continues if the settlement falls apart.
You may continue getting benefits. The insurance company might stop them at some point. You might end up settling your case at some point in the future.
How does the State Board of Workers’ Compensation review settlement documents?
Once you sign the stipulation and agreement and send it back to the insurance company’s attorney, they should file it with the State Board of Workers’ Compensation. The State Board of Workers Compensation has created rules for settlements. Workers compensation settlements must satisfy these rules for the State Board to approve them.
You can find most of the State Board’s rules about settlements in Board Rule 15. This rule explains what documents must be submitted with a settlement. The rule also explains certain things that cannot be part of a settlement.
The State Board of Workers’ Compensation reviews the settlement documents once they are submitted. Usually within a week or two, they will issue a decision about the settlement. Most workers compensation settlements are approved.
You need to remember that the State Board may not review all settlement documents you signed. The State Board only reviews the workers compensation settlement documents. If you signed documents other than a stipulation and agreement, those documents usually do not get reviewed by the State Board.
How long does the whole settlement process take?
Assuming that the State Board approves your workers compensation settlement, it usually takes 30 to 60 days from when you reach a settlement agreement until the insurance company pays you the settlement money. It may not take that long, but it can also take longer.
Several different factors affect this timeline:
- The time it takes to get the settlement paperwork prepared
- Time spent agreeing on any changes in the language in the paperwork
- The time taken by the State Board of Workers’ Compensation to review the paperwork
The final factor that affects this timeline is how long it takes the insurance company to pay you the settlement money. The insurance company has 20 days from settlement approval to pay you the settlement money. If they do not pay it in 20 days, they owe a 20% late penalty.
Should I settle my case?
That is a much more difficult question to answer. There are a number of factors that go into whether it is a good decision to settle your case or not. Those factors include:
- How much the insurance company is offering you
- Are you going to be able to return to work after settlement
- What medical treatment will you need in the future
- What rights is the insurance company asking you to give up as part of settlement
There are other factors to consider as well. Just remember that settlement is final once the State Board approves it. Because of that, it is best to discuss your case with a workers compensation attorney before moving forward with a settlement to get some additional information and to make sure you make a good decision.