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Workers’ Compensation – Mediated Settlement – Unrelated Death – Enforceable Agreement 

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//August 17, 2022

Workers’ Compensation – Mediated Settlement – Unrelated Death – Enforceable Agreement 

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//August 17, 2022

The parties entered into a mediated settlement agreement for the claimant’s future medical expenses arising from a work-related injury. Pursuant to the agreement, the respondent-employer and the respondent-insurer agreed to pay the claimant $1,000,000, and the agreement was signed by the claimant, his attorney, respondents, respondents’ attorney and the mediator. Although the claimant was killed in an unrelated car accident seven days later, prior to the settlement agreement being filed with the Workers’ Compensation Commission, the settlement was nevertheless binding. 

We reverse the Commission’s order affirming the single commissioner’s order, which concluded that the agreement was not enforceable because the claimant never executed or signed an “Agreement and Final Release,” resulting in one never being filed with the Commission in accordance with S.C. Code Ann. § 42-9-390. Remanded. 

The Commission relied on Mackey v. Kerr-McGee Chemical Co., 280 S.C. 265, 312 S.E.2d 565 (Ct. App. 1984), in reaching its decision. However, § 42-9-390 has been amended since Mackey, and the current version no longer requires the Commission’s approval of a settlement agreement when both parties are represented by counsel. It simply requires the employer to file a copy of the settlement agreement with the Commission. This is a perfunctory act. 

It appears that the only reason respondents did not file the agreement with the Commission was because the claimant unexpectedly died. There was no evidence that either side had expressed a desire to withdraw from the agreement. In fact, the claimant’s attorney filed a motion requesting permission to file the agreement and a Form 50 requesting the agreement be filed with and enforced by the Commission. 

The agreement language provided the case was “fully and completely resolved by agreement.” The same day the parties signed the agreement, the mediator filed a Form 70, stating the issues were settled and respondents will submit “documentation regarding the agreement to the Commission.” 

Respondents had already written the $1,000,000 settlement check to the claimant and mailed it to his attorney. Although the accompanying letter stated respondents were “in the process of finalizing the Agreement and Final Release,” it also provided the check amount represented “a full and final settlement of all claims in this matter.” Thus, there was nothing left for the parties to decide. We find the parties substantially complied with the statute, and their actions satisfied the reasonable objectives of the of the amended statute. 

Further, we find legislative intent disfavoring abatement in S.C. Code Ann. § 42- 9-280, which provides, “When an employee receives or is entitled to compensation under this title for an injury covered by the second paragraph of Section 42-9-10 or 42-9-30 and dies from any other cause than the injury for which he was entitled to compensation, payment of the unpaid balance of compensation shall be made to his next of kin dependent upon him for support, in lieu of the compensation the employee would have been entitled to had he lived.” 

Finally, workers’ compensation law is to be liberally construed in favor of coverage. 

Respondents were required to file the agreement with the Commission regardless of the claimant’s untimely death. 

Reversed and remanded. 

Ex parte Horne (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-047-22, 7 pp.) (Paula Thomas, J.) Appealed from the Workers’ Compensation Commission. Gary Christmas, Reese Stidham, Pauul Doolittle, Allison Sullivan and Andrew Safran for appellants. Richard Daniel Addison for respondents. S.C. App. 

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