There are two types of Stipulation and Agreement that can be used to settle a Workers' Compensation claim; both are specifically authorized by O.C.G.A. Sec. 34-9-15, and both must be filed with the State Board. The first type is called a "liability stipulation;" the second is called a "no liability stipulation." As is clear from the name, the liability stipulation is used to settle a claim where there is an agreement that an injury occurred, and there is a bona fide dispute as to the remaining benefits that will become due to the Employee/Claimant, which dispute is being resolved via settlement.
A no liability stipulation concludes that there is no liability for the alleged work injury. In this scenario, there will be a separate written agreement between the parties that lays out the amount being paid to settle the claim and the terms of the settlement. With a no liability stipulation, the State Board nonetheless retains jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement. O.C.G.A. Sec. 34-9-15(b). No liability stipulations are just as popular with Employer/Insurers as they are unpopular with Employee/Claimants, for the obvious reason that they purport to be an agreement between the parties, which becomes an award of the State Board, that there was no compensable work injury.
Board Rule 15 contains various requirements for the language and terms that must be included in Stipulations and Agreements, particularly liability stipulations. It is important to review the statute and Board Rule for these requirements. One requirement of Board Rule 15 for liability stipulations is that "[i]f an attorney is to be paid, the stipulation must state the amount of the fee, and itemize all expenses which should be reimbursed." Board Rule 15(e). This subsection of the Board Rule also states that "an attorney shall not receive an attorney's fee as a portion or percentage of any medical treatment or expenses, or any money designated for medical treatment or expenses."
Another clause that is very frequently added to liability stipulations, although it is not required by the statute or Board Rule, is the so-called "Hartman clause." This is a clause that divides out, over the remaining life expectancy of the Employee/Claimant expressed in weeks, the settlement amounts paid to the Employee/Claimant under the stipulation for income benefits. This results in a per week figure that can be used for purposes of calculating any applicable offsets if the Employee/Claimant is then receiving, or someday in the future begins receiving, some form of social security disability benefits. This ameliorates what could otherwise be a potentially draconian impact upon the Employee/Claimant's social security benefits due to the Workers' Compensation settlement.
Whichever type of stipulation is used, once it is signed by the Employee/Claimant and her attorney, as well as the attorney representing the Employer/Insurer, the Stipulation and Agreement settling the case will have to be filed with the State Board, along with some additional documentation that is specifically required by Board Rule 15. After the Stipulation and Agreement is filed with the State Board, it will be reviewed by the Settlement Unit, and if it is found to be proper and acceptable, it will be approved. While it is unusual for stipulations not to be approved, it does happen, which is why close attention should be paid to the particulars of O.C.G.A. Sec. 34-9-15 and Board Rule 15. Sometimes, if there is a question, the Settlement Unit will ask for additional information or documentation prior to approving the Stipulation and Agreement settling the case. Depending on when the stipulation is filed, and how busy the Settlement Unit is, approval can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks after the stipulation is filed. The typical time for review and approval is about a week.
If you are unsure as to which stipulation is best in your case, our Atlanta workers' compensation lawyer will be happy to work with you and prepare your settlement documents. Contact our workers' comp firm today for a free case evaluation today!