For most of our clients—large, self-insured employers—settlement of a workers’ compensation case is often contingent upon a general release and resignation or separation agreement. It is extremely important to make sure that not only are the claimant and their attorney aware of this requirement, but that the terms of the release and separation are included in negotiations in order to enforce those terms as part of a settlement.
We recently defended a workers’ compensation case on behalf of a client with an attorney known to be difficult with us due to prior interactions. Due to this history, we included a copy of the terms of our general release at the time we made the first offer of settlement and advised claimant’s counsel that these terms could not be changed or there would be no settlement. After reaching a settlement without objecting to the language of the general release provided, claimant’s counsel proceeded to change several terms within the release when the settlement documents were returned. Claimant then tried to enforce the settlement without ever signing the original release unchanged. Claimant relied upon the case of Soto v. C-Worthy Corp., 206 S0. 3d 117 (Fla. 1st DCA 2016) in which the court held that an indemnification provision in a general release exceeded the scope of the written mediation agreement. That mediation agreement simply indicated that there would be a general release, it did not include the term requiring indemnification by the other party. Unlike Soto, the indemnification term in the general release was provided to the claimant prior to any settlement and was undisputed that this term was required as part of the settlement.
The JCC denied claimant’s motion to enforce and ruled that the terms of the settlement were unambiguous. Claimant’s changing of the terms of the general release was a change in the essential terms of the settlement. Claimant was forced to proceed with the unaltered general release and the settlement was ultimately approved under these terms.
This case illustrates the need for the terms required of any settlement to be made clear at the outset as well as being made in writing. Most general releases do require indemnification, and this is not something that a claimant or their attorney is normally made aware of during a mediation or settlement negotiations when they are advised of nothing more than a general release and resignation will be required. We frequently deal with the same attorneys we have dealt with numerous times in the past in workers’ compensation cases. In those cases, the attorneys are aware of the general release language that we have used with their offices in the past. For attorneys who we have not had prior dealings with, or attorneys who have objected to language in the past, it is important that all the terms of the settlement in the language of the general release, including indemnification, is provided at the beginning of the negotiations so that enforcement under the terms our clients require can be ensured.