Whether you're receiving workers' comp benefits or appealing the insurance company's denial of your claim for a work-related injury or illness, you might eventually consider signing a settlement agreement with the insurer. While settling a workers' comp claim has its benefits—such as getting money right away to pay your mounting bills—there are also risks involved. Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you understand the settlement agreement and the rights you're giving up under Florida law.
There are different kinds of settlement agreements in Florida, depending on the rights you're giving up and how you receive the money:
With these two factors combined, the most common type of settlement in Florida is a full-and-final release with a lump sun.
If you have a workers' comp lawyer, you can settle your claim at any time. If you don't have a lawyer, Florida law sets special requirements for when you can agree to a full-and-final lump-sum settlement. You can agree to this type of settlement without a lawyer only if:
However, it's almost always wise to wait until reaching MMI before you consider settling your case. Because the insurance company typically stops paying your medical bills after a settlement, you'll be financially responsible for any unexpected medical treatment you need. Also, while you're still healing, it won't be clear whether your work injury will leave you with any permanent medical problems or lost function (known as "permanent impairment" in Florida workers' comp law). That makes it hard to figure out how much money you should look for in a settlement.
Like most states, Florida doesn't use a set formula to calculate settlement values. Instead, insurance companies and lawyers base their settlement offers and demands on a series of factors, including:
You should keep in mind that certain costs might be deducted before you receive the money—including attorneys' fees, other legal expenses, any child support that you owe, and a sum of money to cover medical treatment that may be required for your injury when you're eligible for Medicare. (Learn more about how much of your workers' comp settlement you get to keep.)
The process of finalizing a settlement varies, depending on whether you have a lawyer and the type of settlement agreement.
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 documents, including the written settlement agreement and an explanation of the expenses that will be subtracted from the settlement amount.
A workers' comp judge must approve the amount of fees that will go to your lawyer. Otherwise, Florida doesn't require the judge to review the settlement itself when you have an attorney. The state assumes that your lawyer has already protected your interests. Once you sign the paperwork, the settlement is final.
If you've agreed to a full-and-final lump-sum settlement without a lawyer, a workers' comp judge will hold a hearing to review the settlement agreement, along with supporting evidence and other documents, to see if it's fair. The judge will also ask you questions to make sure you understand the settlement and your rights under Florida law.
If you've settled your case after the insurance company denied your claim, the settlement won't be valid unless the judge approves it. If you've settled after reaching MMI, the judge will decide whether the settlement amount is greater than the value of workers' comp benefits you would otherwise be entitled to receive. If so, the judge doesn't have to approve it.
Once a full-and-final settlement is final, you may not ask the Florida Division of Workers' Comp to reopen your claim in order to seek additional benefits, even if your medical condition gets worse and you need additional treatment.
This means that you shouldn't agree to a settlement unless you fully understand its terms and are completely comfortable with the long-term consequences. That can be difficult to do without a lawyer's help. An experienced workers' comp attorney can help you evaluate settlement offers, negotiate with the insurance company, explain the meaning and consequences of all of the language in the settlement agreement, and ensure that all the paperwork is completed correctly.