Logan v. New Horizon Acad., No. WC17-6031 (WCCA June 30, 2017)
The Employee, Glenda A. Logan, sustained an admitted work injury to her left upper extremity. She subsequently underwent a left bicep tendon repair surgery. She incurred a number of medical bills and three weeks of lost time. A medical request was filed seeking payment of the disputed medical expenses. A tentative settlement was reached the day before the hearing. The Employer and Insurer’s attorney, Mr. Kopp, and the Employee’s attorney, Mr. Christensen, exchanged several emails back and forth discussing the attorney fees to be paid.
Mr. Kopp was claiming $11,220.00 in Roraff fees, which Mr. Christensen said was excessive. Mr. Christensen’s position was that the attorney fees would be a percentage of the medical bills paid. A draft of the stipulation was circulated with one paragraph leaving a blank for the amount of attorney fees to be paid and another paragraph stating that the Employer and Insurer would pay $11,220.00 in fees to Mr. Christensen pursuant to the Roraff, Heaton, and Irwin cases.
After more discussions and the parties reaching an impasse, the parties agreed that Mr. Christensen would have to file a Statement of Attorney Fees and they would file a Stipulation with the attorney fee language removed. A Stipulation was filed but the paragraph stating that the Employer and Insurer would pay Mr. Christensen $11,220.00 for attorney fees was kept in.
After the Award was filed, Mr. Christensen requested payment pursuant to the Stipulation. After a hearing on this issue, the compensation judge issued an Order on Motion to Vacate the Roraff Attorney Fee Portion of the Stipulation for Settlement and Award.
On appeal, the Employer and Insurer argue that the commissioner may correct mathematical or clerical errors at any time, pursuant to Minn. Stat. 176.521, subd. 2a. The WCCA rejected this argument, stating that the commissioner is not the compensation judge, and the inclusion of the attorney fee paragraph cannot be characterized as a mathematical error or clerical error. The compensation judge did not have authority under this section to vacate the award of attorney fees.
The Employer and Insurer also argued that the Stipulation as approved was not an enforceable contract. However, where the terms of a contract are not ambiguous and absent fraud or misrepresentation, a mistake of one party as to the terms of a contract is not a ground for rescission. Intentional deception or fraud is another way to vacate an award, however, this issue was not before the WCCA on a petition to vacate and Minn. Stat. 176.461 does not bestow authority on a compensation judge to vacate part of an award.
The WCCA concluded that the compensation judge was not authorized to vacate part of a stipulation for settlement upon which a valid award had been issued. The judge’s Order was reversed.