Workers Compensation: Reopening Claims
Unlike in personal injury cases, a workers compensation attorney can often assist employees in reopening claims after settlement. The ability to reopen can be very important for an employee whose disability has recurred or increased.
However, whether a case can be reopened after settlement depends first on whether it was settled by a “Stipulation and Award,” or whether it was settled by a “Compromise & Release.”
A Compromise and Release is a settlement agreement that typically resolves all of an employee’s claims: past, present and future. Unless the settlement agreement was procured by fraud, it typically concludes the case completely, and you cannot reopen a case.
However, if the case was resolved by a “Stipulation and Award” or after a trial, the Labor Code permits you to reopen your case in certain circumstances. The four most common reasons that the court may allow an employee to reopen a workers’ compensation claim are when:
- a disability has recurred or increased;
- new evidence has been discovered showing that the award was inequitable, and reopening a case is necessary resolve of an unavoidable error of fact;
- there was an error in the law that created an inequitable result; or
- there was a clerical error.
However, the right to reopen does not last forever. While there are some limited exceptions, an employee usually must do so within five (5) years of the date of the injury. Workers Compensation Attorneys and Judges often refer to this five year period as the statute of limitations.
Besides reopening the original claim, it is possible that when an employee’s disability worsens they may actually have a “cumulative claim” which is typically treated as a “new” claim. The five year statute of limitations may start over again for the new cumulative injury. Determining when the statue of limitations begins, or if it restarts, is a very complicated matter and consultation with a workers’ compensation attorney is recommended.
Because of the possible need or desire to reopen a claim, it is recommended that before accepting a compromise and release, you give serious consideration to the potential that your condition may change over time and the possible need for medical care in the future.
If you have questions about reopening a claim, or potentially have a cumulative injury, please give one of our Workers’ Compensation Attorneys a call for a free consultation.