Juan Pablo Beltran filed an Application alleging he sustained an industrial cumulative trauma injury to his head and back due to repetitive heavy work while employed as a laborer by Structural Steel Fabricators. The employer denied applicant’s claim based upon the affirmative defense that applicant did not report the injury prior to his termination for cause.
The parties submitted a walk through Compromise and Release Agreement settling applicant’s claim for $12,500.00, which included his potential entitlement to a Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit voucher. Upon receipt of the Compromise and Release Agreement, the WCJ suspended action on the settlement agreement and set the matter for trial, noting on March 24, 2016, that the parties may not settle or commute the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit voucher. The WCJ then reset the matter for a status conference after defendant filed a Petition for Removal.
According to the WCJ’s Report and Recommendation on Petition for Reconsideration, the WCJ requested defendant strike the language that applicant was not entitled to a Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit voucher. When defendant would not agree, the WCJ approved the Compromise and Release Agreement with the additional language, “Parties may not settle or commute SJDV per LC §4658.7(g) CCR§10133.31 (h).”
The WCAB granted reconsideration in the panel decision of Juan Pablo Beltran v Structural Steel Fabricators and SCIF.
In 2012 the Legislature passed SB863 which amended the provisions of workers’ compensation law pertaining to Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits, which replaced vocational rehabilitation benefits that were terminated in 2004. A provision was added prohibiting the settlement or commutation of a claim for the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit voucher. According to the Assembly Floor Analysis, the prohibition on settlement of the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit voucher was to prevent the “cashing out” of the retraining voucher.
Defendant argues on reconsideration that where there is a good faith dispute as to the compensability of a claim of injury, the parties should be permitted to settle applicant’s entitlement to the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit voucher, analogizing to the situation which existed with respect to the settlement of vocational rehabilitation benefits that was addressed in Thomas v. Sports Chalet (1977) 42. Cal.Comp.Cases 625 [Appeals Board En Banc].
The prohibition against settlement of the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit voucher is analogous to the prohibition against settlement of vocational rehabilitation benefits, which Thomas held could be resolved in a Compromise and Release Agreement only when a serious and good faith issue exists, which if resolved against the applicant would defeat all right to compensation.
Here, an injured worker’s entitlement to the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit voucher is conditioned upon both the acceptance of liability for a claimed industrial injury by the employer and the existence of permanent partial disability, or a determination of these issues after trial. Where an employer denies liability and raises an affirmative defense that could potentially defeat all right to compensation, a prohibition on settlement of the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit voucher would require a trial to determine injury and the existence of permanent partial disability in every case. The Board in Thomas recognized that this would result in “effectively doing away with settlements,” despite the existence of good faith disputes that could totally bar recovery.
Accordingly, we hold that, as in Thomas, where the trier of fact makes an express finding based upon the record that a serious and good faith issue exists to justify a release, a compromise and release agreement may be: approved by the Board which will relieve the employer from liability for the Supplemental Job Displacement Benefit voucher.