September 2012 Bar Bulletin
New Developments in Workers' Compensation Law
By Michael Costello
Two major changes to our workers' compensation law will affect injured workers and their third-party claims. The first is a limited form of compromise and release under RCW 51.04.063. The second is the establishment of a statewide network of medical providers under RCW 51.36.010.
Effective as of last January 1, injured workers over the age of 55 may enter into a structured settlement agreement to resolve all benefit issues other than medical treatment. The claim resolution structured settlement agreement (CRSSA) binds all parties with respect to all aspects of the claim, except medical benefits.
A CRSSA provides periodic payments to the worker at a minimum of 25% and a maximum of 150% of the average monthly wage pursuant to RCW 51.08.018. The initial payment may be up to six times the average monthly wage.
After entering into a CRSSA, the claim may only be reopened for medical treatment. The parties may agree to keep the claim open for ongoing medical treatment related to the injury or agree that future treatment shall be provided without the need to apply to reopen the claim.
The process is relatively new. As such, CRSSAs have not been easily obtained. The CRSSA must be in writing and signed by the parties. The agreement must be approved by the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals.
WAC 263-12-052 specifies the information a CRSSA shall contain, including medical conditions and collateral source benefits. Attorneys representing injured workers in third-party claims may not want this information disclosed.
CRSSAs will expand to injured workers over 53 years of age effective January 1, 2015, and to those over 50 years of age effective January 1, 2016.
As CRSSAs apply to individuals who may qualify for Social Security disability, the impact on Social Security disability benefits and Medicare should be considered before entering into the agreement.
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