California worker seeks compensation for injury allegedly arising from repetitive job duties

Medical evaluator determines 65% permanent disability

California worker seeks compensation for injury allegedly arising from repetitive job duties

The applicant, who worked for Sutter Connect Human Resources, alleged that she suffered an industrial injury to her neck, bilateral wrists, and bilateral arms on a cumulative basis as a result of performing repetitive job duties.

The applicant in the case of Armbrust vs. Sutter Select; State Compensation Insurance Fund claimed that she suffered the injury during the course of her employment with the defendant employer. The parties’ agreed medical evaluator determined 65% permanent disability.

The parties, anticipating a mandatory settlement conference, exchanged emails with settlement discussions about a potential compromise and release.

The trial tackled the issues of the injured body parts, the permanent and stationary date, permanent disability, apportionment, liability for self-procured medical treatment, attorney fees, and the existence of a settlement agreement.

The workers’ compensation administrative law judge found that the emails did not amount to a valid and enforceable settlement agreement or compromise and release under sections 5002 and 5003 of California’s Labor Code.

The applicant filed a petition for reconsideration challenging the judge’s decision. She argued that the defendant could not unilaterally withdraw from a settlement agreement simply because it did not fulfill its obligation to perform the contingencies that it agreed to perform.

The applicant asserted that she and the defendant entered into a written contract for settlement via email that would have been fully valid and enforceable if the defendant followed through with the contingencies to which it agreed.

Petition should be denied, judge says

The judge provided a report recommending the denial of the petition for reconsideration. The report said the following:

The compromise and release was never drafted, executed, or approved

  • While the parties’ emails amounted to settlement negotiations, the settlement terms were uncertain and an agreement was never reached
  • The parties did not cite any legal authority that would automatically bind them to settlement terms while engaging in preliminary negotiations
  • The parties could not have had a meeting of the minds regarding the amount of money needed to address Medicare’s interests at the time of the email communications

The settlement was contingent on approval by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) of a proposed medical savings account (MSA) in the amount of $15,052.58. However, the CMS later approved a bigger MSA in the amount of $17,927.

The report said that, if the CMS approved an amount different from the amount that the parties submitted, the parties did not have a meeting of the minds over the amount of money necessary to address Medicare’s interests during the email communications.

A panel of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board of California said that, for the reasons given by the judge’s report, reconsideration would be an adequate remedy and denying the removal would not cause significant prejudice or irreparable harm.

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