Whether you’re receiving workers’ comp benefits or appealing a denial from the insurance company, you might eventually consider settling your Florida workers’ compensation case. While settling a workers’ comp claim has its benefits—such as receiving an immediate sum of money to pay your mounting bills—there are also risks involved. Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you understand what rights you're giving up.
In Florida, most insurance companies want a full and final settlement of your workers’ compensation claim. This means a settlement typically terminates your right to workers’ comp benefits for any and all injuries that happened while you were working for your employer (including unidentified injuries and illnesses as of the date of settlement). Occasionally the insurance company will agree to continue paying for certain benefits, such as medical treatment. However, this is relatively rare. (To learn more about what you might be giving up when you settle, read our article on Florida workers’ comp benefits.)
Most settlements are paid in a lump sum. However, in some cases, the insurance company might agree to a structured settlement instead. A structured settlement is paid in installments over time. For example, you might receive payments each month, year, or every couple of years. Structured settlements are frequently used when settling claims involving catastrophic injuries, as they can help workers manage their settlement money and pay for long-term care.
The process of finalizing a settlement varies, depending on whether or not you have a lawyer. While you can settle your workers’ comp claim without a lawyer, you should seriously consider consulting with one. Settlements are usually final, and it can be difficult to know whether the offer you received is a fair one. A Florida workers’ comp lawyer can help you evaluate settlement offers, negotiate with the insurance company, and ensure that the paperwork is completed correctly.
In Florida, you typically don't need to attend a settlement hearing if you have a lawyer. Instead, the lawyer will guide you through a series of settlement documents, including a written settlement agreement and an explanation of attorneys’ fees and other expenses that will be subtracted from your settlement. (Read our article about Florida workers’ comp attorneys’ fees for more information.)
The settlement is finalized once you sign this paperwork. However, a judge must review and approve your lawyer’s attorneys’ fees. Unlike in other states, the judge does not review your settlement and decide whether it is fair and reasonable. The judge assumes that your lawyer has already protected your interests.
If you are unrepresented, you cannot settle your claim without a formal hearing. At this hearing, the judge will review a series of documents, which might include:
The judge will also question you about the terms of your settlement and your reasons for settling. The judge cannot approve your settlement unless it is fair and reasonable—and he or she is convinced that you understand what you are giving up and receiving in exchange.
Once your settlement is finalized, it becomes full and final. In other words, you cannot ask the Florida Division of Workers’ Comp to reopen your claim if your condition worsens or you need additional treatment. Do not agree to a settlement unless you are completely comfortable with its terms.
Like most states, Florida doesn’t use a set formula to calculate settlement values. Instead, insurance companies and lawyers base their settlement demands on a series of factors, including:
Once you and the insurance company agree on a settlement value, certain costs might be deducted from your settlement, including attorneys’ fees, legal costs, and a sum of money to cover future medical expenses if you are eligible for Medicare. (To learn more about these deductions, read our article discussing how much of your settlement you will get to keep.)
If you have a workers’ comp lawyer, you can settle your claim at any time. If you don’t have a lawyer, you can settle your workers’ comp claim if:
However, it almost always makes sense to wait until reaching MMI to settle a workers’ compensation case. Because the insurance company typically stops paying your medical bills after a settlement, you will become financially responsible for any unexpected (and expensive) medical treatment you need. And, it can be difficult to properly value a settlement while you are still healing and the extent of your injuries is still unclear.