And this is a blog dedicated to Mississippi Workers' Compensation
Easter 2018 is now behind us and I hope you all had a chance to spend some time with family and friends over the weekend, donning your favorite pastels. Our firm traditionally takes Good Friday off, which was a much-welcomed break.
My family spent Saturday at an annual Easter egg hunt hosted by some friends of ours. This year was the first that my kids were old enough to really know what was going on. There were close to 100 kids ranging from ages 1-10 fighting over the plastic eggs filled with various melted chocolate. As they said “go”, it was clear my kids were not ready. Sawyer was a step slow on each egg and Charlotte would take the plastic eggs already split in half to throw in her bag after the big kids had already extracted the goods. All in all, Sawyer got one egg and Charlotte had about 5 half eggs with no prizes.
Thankfully, the Easter Bunny made a stop by our house Sunday morning. After having their fill of chocolate bunnies and other various bite-sized, sugar-filled candies, I made them at least attempt to eat something of substance with their breakfast. By 8:30, Sawyer was done eating and had moved on to his “chores” for the day, as shown below:
As Sawyer cleaned his Jeep, I was reminded of one of the newly-enacted changes at the MWCC that we have not discussed yet in much depth. For unrepresented settlements, the prior MWCC Rule involved meeting the claimant at the MWCC, explaining the settlement and terms of same to the claimant, then going before either Commissioner Beth Aldridge, Commissioner Tom Webb or Chairman Mark Formby to seek approval of the settlement.
Almost exclusively, the aforementioned Commissioners had no prior knowledge of the claim, the settlement reached or basis behind said agreement. These unrepresented claimants typically had not consulted an attorney prior to our Settlement Hearing and generally had very little knowledge about the workers’ compensation arena. Oftentimes, after reaching a date of maximum medical improvement, these claimants received a call from their claims adjuster with an offer for money. The offer made, most of the time, was more than these claimants ever expected. That is the main reason I always try to encourage my clients to make an initial offer that is fair, because if the claimant does accept a “low ball” offer, the settlement may not get approved at the Commission. Negotiating against yourself after an accepted offer can cause a claimant to lose trust in you.
With the newly-enacted rules in place, once a settlement is reached with an unrepresented claimant, the settlement documents are submitted to the Commission through ATOS. The case is assigned to one of the Commissioners, and once the Commissioner has an opportunity to review the documents and educate themselves on the particular facts of the case, they provide the attorney of record with a date/time to present to the MWCC to seek approval of the agreement. Your attorney will still need to meet with the claimant beforehand to discuss and answer any questions, but this gives the Commissioner an opportunity to review all of the information, and potentially arrange a telephone conference with the attorney of record if need be, before being presented with the particular settlement.
As a prior Commissioner once told me, their job is to be a “gate keeper” when a claimant is not represented. Always keep that in mind when negotiating settlements. These claimants are not aware how to evaluate a claim, so be fair on the front end. This new Rule should cut down on settlements not being approved at the Settlement Hearing as conversations and research by those reviewing the documents beforehand can help to ensure everyone is getting a fair settlement.
If you ever need an attorney to handle an unrepresented settlement for you, please give me a call or email. I am also available if you simply want to discuss a settlement you have reached with an unrepresented claimant to see my thoughts on whether or not it is likely to be approved by the Commission. Having a fresh set of eyes on a claim can be beneficial.
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Attorney with Markow Walker in Ridgeland, MS