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Carl Aaron filed three Applications for Adjudication of Claim for injuries he alleged to have occurred while employed by Hesperia Unified School District. On May 30, 2023 the WCJ approved a stipulated settlement agreement of these claims and an Award, was issued based upon the stipulation signed and filed by both parties.

The employer subsequently filed a Petition for Reconsideration of this Award, based upon the contention that the Award should be rescinded because it is based on commutation calculations that were incorrect and both parties relied on the erroneous calculations.

There was no response to the Petition for Reconsideration filed by Mr. Aaron. The WCJ issued a Report and Recommendation on Petition for Reconsideration recommending that the Petition be denied or, in the alternative, treated as a Petition to set-aside the Award.

The WCAB dismissed the Petition as premature, and returned this matter to the trial level for consideration of the Petition as one to set aside the Award in the panel decision of Aaron v Hesperia Unified School District. -ADJ10948627-ADJ11046485-ADJ11046682 (August 2023). Along the way, the WCAB panel set forth a review of the law on the grounds for setting aside a stipulation of a party after an award has been issued.

The appeals board has continuing jurisdiction over all its orders, decisions, and awards made and entered under the provisions of [Division 4] . . . At any time, upon notice and after the opportunity to be heard is given to the parties in interest, the appeals board may rescind, alter, or amend any order, decision, or award, good cause appearing therefor.” (Lab. Code, § 5803.)

Contract principles apply to settlements of workers’ compensation disputes. The legal principles governing compromise and release agreements, and by extension, stipulations with request for award, are the same as those governing other contracts. (Burbank Studios v. Workers’ Co. Appeals Bd. (Yount) (1982) 134 Cal.App.3d 929, 935 [47 Cal.Comp.Cases 832].) Stipulations between the parties must be interpreted to give effect to the mutual intention of the parties it existed at the time of contracting, so far as the same is ascertainable and lawful. (County of San Joaquin v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Bd. (Sepulveda) (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 1180, 1184 [69 Cal.Comp.Cases 193]; Civ. Code, § 1636.)

“A stipulation is ‘An agreement between opposing counsel …. ordinarily entered into for the purpose of avoiding delay, trouble, or expense in the conduct of the action,’ (Ballentine, Law Dict. (1930) p. 1235, col. 2) and serves ‘to obviate need for proof or to narrow range of litigable issues’ (Black’s Law Dict. (6th ed. 1990) p. 1415, col. 1) in a legal proceeding.” (County of Sacramento v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (Weatherall) (2000) 77 Cal.App.4th 1114, 1118 [65 Cal.Comp.Cases 1].) Stipulations are binding on the parties unless, on a showing of good cause, the parties are given permission to withdraw from their agreements. (Weatherall, supra, at 1121.)

“Good cause” to set aside an order or stipulations depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case. “Good cause” includes mutual mistake of fact, duress, fraud, undue influence, and procedural irregularities. (Johnson v. Workmen’s Comp. Appeals Bd. (1970) 2 Cal.3d 964, 975 [35 Cal.Comp.Cases 362]; Santa Maria Bonita School District v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (Recinos) (2002) 67 Cal.Comp.Cases 848, 850 (writ den.); City of Beverly Hills v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (Dowdle) (1997) 62 Cal.Comp.Cases 1691, 1692 (writ den.); Smith v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (1985) 168 Cal.App.3d 1160, 1170 [50 Cal.Comp.Cases 311].)

To determine whether there is good cause to rescind awards and stipulations, the circumstances surrounding their execution and approval must be assessed. (See Labor Code § 5702; Weatherall, supra, 1118-1121; Robinson v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (1987) 194 Cal.App.3d 784, 790-792 [52 Cal.Comp.Cases 419]; Huston v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (1979) 95 Cal.App.3d 856, 864-867 [44 Cal.Comp.Cases 798].)

Moreover, “[t]he Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board shall inquire into the adequacy of all Compromise and Release agreements and Stipulations with Request for Award, and may set the matter for hearing to take evidence when necessary to determine whether the agreement should be approved or disapproved, or issue findings and awards.” (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 10700(b).)

The WCJ has the discretionary authority to develop the record when the medical record is not substantial evidence or when appropriate to provide due process or fully adjudicate the issues. (Lab. Code, §§ 5701, 5906; McClune v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (1998) 62 Cal.App.4th 1117, 1121-1122 [63 Cal.Comp.Cases 261]; Tyler v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 389, 394 [62 Cal.Comp.Cases 924].)

All parties in workers’ compensation proceedings retain their fundamental right to due process and a fair hearing under both the California and United States Constitutions. (Rucker v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (2000) 82 Cal.App.4th 151, 157-158 [65 Cal.Comp.Cases 805].)

“Accordingly, we dismiss the Petition as premature and return the matter to the WCJ for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. Upon return of this matter to the trial level, we recommend that the WCJ treat the Petition as a petition to set aside, including setting a hearing to allow the parties to provide evidence and create a record upon which a decision can be made by the WCJ.”