Ryan v. Potlatch Corporation

Ryan v. Potlatch Corporation, (July 13, 2016) No. WC14-5782

The employee attempted to bring a claim petition for a back injury with consequential depression and anxiety arising out of a back injury, with respect to which she had previously entered into a full, final, and complete settlement. The employee sustained a low back injury in the course and scope of her work with Potlatch which culminated in 2002. In November of 2003, the employee and employer entered into a settlement agreement that provided for a full, final, and complete settlement of all claims, with the exception of future reasonable and necessary medical treatment.

The employee’s low back condition continued to worsen and in 2009 she underwent a three level fusion, and a second back surgery a few months later. While in the hospital she was evaluated by a psychiatrist and diagnosed with depression which was attributed, in part, to her back problems.

The employee filed a claim petition in January 2013 seeking additional benefits from the 2002 injury at Potlatch. The employer alleged that it had paid benefits for the injury and that the claim was fully and finally resolved by the settlement agreement. The employer also moved to dismiss the claim petition, arguing that the employee was first required to bring a motion to set aside the settlement agreement before proceeding with the claim petition.

The workers’ compensation judge denied the employer’s motion, reasoning that the 2003 settlement did not foreclose a claim for chronic pain and depression. The WCCA affirmed, reasoning that a prior stipulation does not close out claims from the same incident which weren’t addressed in the stipulation, absent evidence they were contemplated by the parties in the stipulation.

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the WCCA decision, stating that a workers’ compensation settlement agreement may close out not only the work-related injury that is the subject of the agreement, but also conditions and complications that arise from the injury and are within the reasonable contemplation of the parties at the time of the settlement agreement.