Robertson v. Manpower Temp. Servs. and Transp. Ins. Co./CNA Ins. Co. et al.

Robertson v. Manpower Temp. Servs. and Transp. Ins. Co./CNA Ins. Cos. et al., No. WC 16-6021 (May 16, 2017).

This case concerns the scope of a Stipulation for Settlement (the “Stipulation”). On or around May 8, 1990, the Tracey Robertson (the “employee”) injured her right arm while employed at Manpower Temporary Services (the “employer”).  Soon after, she was diagnosed with “probable” reflex sympathetic dystrophy (“RSD”). Later, in March 1993, she filed a Claim Petition against the employer and the employer’s insurer, CNA Insurance (the “insurer”). In her Claim Petition, she sought benefits relating to left and right arm-related RSD conditions.

Eventually, in 1996, the employee, employer, and insurer entered into a Stipulation. Even though the employee’s Claim Petition sought benefits for the RSD condition, this Stipulation did not mention anything concerning the RSD condition. Instead, this Stipulation referenced only a “carpal tunnel syndrome” injury on the employee’s right side. This Stipulation, however, foreclosed the employee from seeking workers’ compensation benefits “for claims past, present, and future, arising out of the injury of May 8, 1990,” but did allow for “reasonable and necessary medical benefits and future Roraff fees.”

Then, in 2014, the employee slipped and fell outside a movie theater while on a personal outing with her family. She alleged that this fall aggravated the RSD condition, which was the subject of her 1993 Claim Petition. Later, in February 2015, she filed another Claim Petition for injuries to her upper extremity right arm RSD and consequential upper extremity left arm RSD. In this Claim Petition, the employee sought wage loss and medical benefits.

The parties appeared before a Compensation Judge for a motion hearing on October 10, 2016. The Compensation Judge held that that 1996 Stipulation “settled all claims” arising out of the May 8, 1990. To that end, the Compensation Judge held that the employer and insurer proved by a preponderance of the evidence that all parties intended to settle claims for RSD in both arms and, to that end, dismissed the employee’s entire Claim Petition and Request for Formal Hearing.

Upon review, the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals (“W.C.C.A.”) affirmed the Compensation Judge’s decision (in part, as it related to the employee’s demand for wage loss and rehabilitation benefits). The W.C.C.A. held that the employee’s RSD condition “could have been reasonably contemplated by the parties,” even though the 1996 Stipulation did not mention the employee’s RSD condition, and affirmed the Compensation Judge’s decision as to this issue.

In reaching that conclusion, the W.C.C.A. relied, in part, on Ryan v. Potlach, a recent decision from the Minnesota Supreme Court. 882 N.W.2d 220 (Minn. 2016). In short, the Minnesota Supreme Court in Ryan held that a workers’ compensation settlement may close out the work- related injury that is at issue and it may close out conditions that may arise, “[which] are within the reasonable contemplation of the parties at the time of the agreement.” Id. at 225.

Moreover, the record indicated that the parties knew about the employee’s RSD condition, and thus they could have “reasonably contemplated” that the 1996 Stipulation closed out any wage loss or rehabilitation benefits that relate to this condition without any specific reference. To those ends, the W.C.C.A. concluded that the Compensation Judge correctly dismissed the employee’s Claim Petition as to her wage loss and rehabilitation benefits.

The W.C.C.A., however, found that the Compensation Judge erred when he dismissed the employee’s entire Claim Petition because the 1996 Stipulation did not foreclose the employee from seeking future medical benefits.

In extracting the core point from Robertson, it appears that the W.C.C.A. stripped away the need for parties to expressly mention a specific condition in Stipulations, so long as that condition could have been reasonably contemplated by the parties at the time of the agreement (and the record indicates that the parties were aware of the condition).  The W.C.C.A. likely sought to sidestep hyper-technical arguments by employees who first stipulate to release employers and insurers from liability for a work-related injury, only to later demand additional benefits because the Stipulation failed to enumerate a specific condition.