In Johnson v. Pilgrim’s Pride, Inc. (Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, April 27, 2016) the Tennessee Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board was faced with a case wherein an individual who was unrepresented by an attorney sought to alter, amend or set aside an approved Workers’ Compensation Settlement Agreement. Tennessee law authorizes a workers’ compensation judge to approve a settlement if two criteria are met (1) the settlement agreement has been signed by the parties, (2) the judge has determined the employee is receiving substantially the benefits provided or if the judge has determined that the settlement is in the best interest of the employee.

Notwithstanding any other provision of the law if there is a dispute as to whether a claim is compensable or as to the amount of compensation due, the parties may settle the matter on a “doubtful and disputed” basis if determined by the workers’ compensation judge to be in the best interest of the employee without regard to whether the employee is receiving substantially the benefits provided by the workers’ compensation laws.

In a workers’ compensation settlement there are several documents to be signed including, a written settlement agreement, a form entitled “Explanation of Workers’ Compensation Benefits” and a Statistical Data form. On the written settlement agreement, the employee signed but under her name included the notation “stress and duress”. On the other two (2) forms the employee signed and no additional notations were added. The workers’ compensation judge also questioned the employee and she affirmed the desire to proceed with the settlement therefore the judge signed the Order approving the settlement.

About three (3) weeks after the settlement approval, the employee filed an untitled Motion attesting that she signed her name under stress, duress and mental anguish and therefore the agreement should be null and void.

The trial court denied the Motion and the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board upheld the denial. In so doing the Appeals Board noted that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the Motion to alter, amend, or set aside the Approved Settlement Agreement. The Court determined that employee’s contention that she was under “stress” and “duress”, standing alone does not restate an individual’s ability to make a reasoned decision to proceed with a settlement.

If you have questions about a workers’ compensation settlement, be wise and contact an attorney to help you.