eNotes: Workers’ Compensation – March 2022 – Washington, D.C.
March 21, 2022
SIGNIFICANT CASE SUMMARY
DC CASE SUMMARY
Forrest J. Hatcher, et al. v. Miracle Electric, et al.
District of Columbia Court of Appeals
Decided: February 14, 2022
In a controverted case, the OWC approval of a partial settlement is not a compensation order subject to penalties for late payments.
In a disputed claim, the Claimant and the Employer entered into a partial settlement agreement addressing Claimant’s right to permanent partial disability benefits regarding his arm. The settlement agreement left Claimant’s entitlement to receive future medical treatment open. The partial settlement was silent on when the payment would be due. The OWC approved the partial settlement agreement, and the approval order indicated the payment must be paid within 14 days, otherwise a 10% penalty would be imposed. The Insurer paid the settlement 20 days thereafter, and Claimant requested that OWC award a 10% penalty under D.C. Code §32-1515(e), which states that a 10% penalty will attach to “compensation payable without an award” when it is more than fourteen days past due.
OWC held that it had no authority to award a penalty because the agreement reached by the parties was not a compensation order or an award, but a voluntary payment. On appeal to the CRB, the CRB concurred that there was no compensation order, such that OWC had no authority to award a penalty, and the CRB had no authority to review the case under D.C. Code §32-1522(b)(2A)(A). Specifically, the CRB held that voluntary agreements approved by the OWC are not compensation orders. See Sodexho Marriott, 858 A.2d 452, 456 (D.C. 2004). The only exception to this rule is when the parties reach a full and final settlement which is approved by the OWC, governed by D.C. Code § 32-1508(8). Claimant appealed from CRB decision. The Court affirmed, concluding that the CRB’s interpretation of the statutory definition of what constitutes a “compensation order” or “award” was reasonable.
Any agreement other than a full and final settlement agreement that is approved by the OWC is not a “compensation order” or “award” within the meaning of D.C. Code §32-1515(e).
The lack of finality in OWC orders and partial settlements is concerning for both sides of the bar, and has created a desire by both sides of the aisle to avoid the OWC level for anything but approval of full and final settlements. This decision reiterates the importance of obtaining decisions at the AHD level or above, or full and final settlements as the only true means of obtaining final resolutions in a case.
Questions about this case can be directed to Jamie L. DeSisto, at (443) 641-0558 or firstname.lastname@example.org.