Alabama Employee's Estate Cannot Enforce Settlement Agreement that was not Court Approved Before Employee's Death
On June 26, 2015, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released its decision in Pat Tate as Administrator of the Estate of Michael Traffanstedt v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company and Dover Corporation. In 2006, Traffanstedt entered into an agreement to settle his workers' compensation claim against his employer, Dover Corporation. That settlement left future medical benefits open. In 2011, Traffanstedt and Dover entered into a second settlement agreement regarding his future medical benefits, but the trial court rejected the settlement. In 2013, Traffanstedt and Dover again entered into an agreement for the settlement of his future medical benefits, and scheduled a hearing before the trial court for approval. Dover's insurance carrier, Liberty Mutual, issued a check in the amount of $70,000 for the settlement, contingent upon court approval. However, Traffanstedt died before the settlement hearing, and Liberty Mutual refused to honor the check. Tate, the Administrator of Traffanstedt's estate, sued Liberty Mutual and Dover, alleging breach of contract. Liberty Mutual and Dover took the position that they were not bound by the settlement agreement because it had not yet been court-approved prior to Traffanstedt's death. They also asserted that the exclusivity provisions of The Alabama Workers' Compensation Act barred Tate's claims for breach of contract. The Trial Court entered Summary Judgment in favor of Liberty Mutual and Dover, and Tate appealed. In its analysis, the Court of Appeals noted that workers' compensation settlements, including the one at issue, are handled differently under the law than other settlements, such as those involving tort claims. The Court also stated that workers' compensation settlements were different even than settlements involving a minor, in that a settlement contract between a minor and insurer is voidable at the election of the minor, whereas workers' compensation settlements for less than the amount of compensation provided for in the Act are contingent upon Court approval. Therefore, the Court held that workers' compensation settlements are not valid for any purpose until approved by the Court. ----------------------------------------- ABOUT THE AUTHOR This article was written by Charley M. Drummond, Esq. of Fish Nelson & Holden, LLC. Fish Nelson & Holden is a law firm located in Birmingham, Alabama dedicated to representing employers, self-insured employers, and insurance carriers in workers' compensation cases and related liability matters. Drummond and his firm are members of The National Workers' Compensation Defense Network (NWCDN). The NWCDN is a national and Canadian network of reputable law firms organized to provide employers and insurers access to the highest quality representation in workers' compensation and related employer liability fields. If you have questions about this article or Alabama workers' compensation issues in general, please feel free to contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or (205) 332-3414.