The prohibition on settling the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits voucher within a Compromise and Release has precluded finality in countless cases and has undoubtedly created the need for additional litigation after a Workers’ Compensation case has “settled”. For injuries on or after January 1, 2013, the prohibition applies and Workers’ Compensation Judges (“WCJ”s) routinely refuse approval of any Compromise and Release that attempts to include this benefit. Now, a panel decision handed down on August 3, 2016 will please both sides of the aisle in a limited number of cases by allowing the parties to settle the voucher.
In Beltran v. Structural Steel Fabricators, 2016 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 366, a Compromise and Release was submitted for walk-through approval and contained an agreement by the parties to settle the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits voucher. The proposed settlement also included an addendum which stated the applicant was not entitled to the benefit based upon the post-termination defense. The addendum also included a statement that the applicant disputed such a contention.
After review of the proposed agreement, the WCJ issued an Order Suspending Action and set the matter for trial indicating the parties were not allowed to settle the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits voucher. Defendant filed a Petition for Removal, and the hearing was changed to a status conference. At this hearing, the WCJ requested the language stating applicant was not entitled to the voucher be stricken from the agreement. The defense refused and the settlement was approved after the WCJ inserted the following provision into the agreement:
“Parties may not settle or commute SJDV per LC § 4658.7(g) CCR § 10133.31 (h)”
On Reconsideration, Commissioner Lowe’s opinion, with Commissioners Razo and Brass concurring, provided:
“ . . . we hold that where the parties establish there is a good faith dispute which, if resolved against applicant, would defeat his entitlement to all workers’ compensation benefits, applicant may settle his claim by a Compromise and Release Agreement that also settles his potential right to the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits voucher.”
Beltran analogized this holding to the commonly known case of Thomas v. Sports Chalet (1977) 42 Cal. Comp. Cases 625 (Appeals Board En Banc). Please recall vocational rehabilitation benefits could not be commuted or settled as set forth by statute under the old vocational rehabilitation benefit scheme. In Thomas, settlement of these benefits was allowed where a serious and good faith issue existed as to compensability. Of course, this is now commonly referred to as a Thomas finding. Beltran now allows settlement of the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits voucher where the evidence is sufficient to support a Thomas finding. Please keep in mind that Beltran is a Panel decision and therefore is not biding precedent on all WCJs. That said, in this practitioner’s experience over the past 60 days, a settlement of the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits voucher was included and approved by a WCJ in Fresno based upon the holding in Beltran.