While there are many benefits to settling your workers’ compensation case, you will also likely be giving up significant rights. Because settlements are often final, it’s wise to consult with an Alaska workers’ comp lawyer before you sign any agreements. (To learn how much that might cost you, see our article on attorneys’ fees in Alaska workers’ comp cases.)
A workers’ comp settlement, also called a “compromise and release,” is a way to resolve a disputed workers’ comp claim. In exchange for an agreed-upon sum, you agree to give up some or all of your claimed workers’ compensation benefits.
Lump sum settlements are allowed in Alaska. However, lump sum payments of permanent total disability benefits awarded by the board are not allowed unless it shown to be in the worker’s best interest. Alternatively, structured settlements—where the worker receives his or her settlement funds in installments over time—are also permitted.
Alaska has a presumption that it’s not in a worker’s best interest to waive future medical care or vocational rehabilitation benefits to which they are entitled. These types of waivers are allowed only if there’s a specific showing of why it’s in the employee’s best interests.
In Alaska, settlements are allowed once 30 days have passed from the date of injury. However, there is a presumption that it’s not in a worker’s best interest to settle before reaching maximum medical improvement (MMI). Before you reach MMI, it is difficult to know the full extent of your injuries—and therefore how much you are owed in workers’ comp benefits. For that reason, most settlements don’t happen until your doctor finds that you’ve reached MMI.
All workers’ comp settlements must be filed with the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board. If you have a lawyer and the settlement does not include a waiver of future medical benefits, the settlement will be binding once it is filed with the board. Otherwise, the board must review and approve the settlement before it is final.
The board will review the settlement to determine whether it’s in your best interests. The board may hold a hearing to ask you questions about the agreement and make sure you understand what rights you are giving up. Once your settlement is approved, it is final and can’t be undone—except in rare situations, such as where the insurance company has committed fraud.
The amount of the settlement varies widely based on the severity of your injury, your ability to work, and your pre-injury wages. Conflicting evidence in your case—for example, as to whether your injury is work-related or whether you are permanently disabled—will also impact your claim’s settlement value.
To get a general idea of how much you might be entitled to, see our article on Alaska workers’ comp benefits. However, a claim’s settlement value depends on many factors, which can only be evaluated by a workers’ comp lawyer familiar with your case.
If your claim is disputed and you’ve initiated the appeals process with the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board, you will continue on to a workers’ compensation hearing and a judge will ultimately decide your case. If your case is not disputed, you will continue to receive your weekly benefits from the insurance company until they are paid out.