The Washington Court of Appeals today held that the workers’ compensation voluntary settlements statute
does not permit the Board or its hearing examiner to reject a proposed CRSSA [claim resolution structured settlement agreement] for a worker represented by an attorney because they deem it not to be in the worker’s best interest.
The statutory text before us extends certain safeguards to all workers, but only for those without counsel does it require the state to determine that the settlement is in their best interest. This approach assigns the determination of one’s own interest to those arguably best positioned to make that determination, workers with legal counsel.
This is the Zimmerman case, in which the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals denied, on best interest grounds, a settlement made by a worker with an attorney. (For more on the case and the voluntary settlements in general, see “The Best Interests of Washington’s Workers’ Compensation System.”)
As the Washington Self-Insurers Association points out,
The problem with Zimmerman is that a two-person majority of the Board began with that case applying the “best interests” standard for workers without lawyers to those with attorney representation, misapplying the law and creating a chilling effect on the negotiation of workers’ comp settlements by claimants with lawyers.
In “The Best Interests of Washington’s Workers’ Compensation System,” we wrote,
Settlements can bring workers closure and reduce long-duration time-loss claims, which are costly and—given that they often lead to pensions—contribute to Washington’s costliness compared with other states. . . .
Allowing more settlements and continuing to improve claims processes can reduce the high costs of Washington’s workers’ compensation system and provide better outcomes for injured workers.
This court decision should help with that.