Third-party settlement ends fund liability

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Supreme Court held in a case of first impression in worker's compensation that when a settlement with a third-party ends an employer's liability, the liability of the Second Injury Fund will also be terminated. However, when the Indiana Worker's Compensation Board approves an agreement by the employer to continue paying worker's comp benefits after the settlement, the injured employee may make a claim to the Second Injury Fund.

In Ronald Mayes v. Second Injury Fund, No. 93S02-0802-EX-0107, Ronald Mayes appealed the Indiana Worker's Compensation Board's decision to deny his claim for entry into the Second Injury Fund on the basis of his confidential settlement with Federal Express, a third-party, after he was injured while working for Main Tech Corporation while on site at Fed Ex.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the board's decision, which ruled the settlement alleviated Main Tech from having to pay any further compensation and alleviated the Second Injury Fund from the need to pay. The fact Main Tech voluntarily agreed to continue to pay Mayes is outside the purview of the Indiana Worker's Compensation Act.

The Supreme Court overturned the board's decision because in the settlement between Mayes and Fed Ex, Main Tech voluntarily maintained its liability even though it would have been terminated under Indiana statute. The board approved this agreement and therefore approved a continuation of liability, wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

"... (T)he Second Injury Fund's liability is derivative of the employer's liability. If the Board approves an agreement continuing an employer's liability despite third party settlement, it follows that the Second Injury Fund should also remain liable," he wrote.

If Main Tech and Mayes hadn't sought approval by the board, then Main Tech's payments to Mayes would have been outside the purview of the Indiana Worker's Compensation Act. The board could have refused to approve the agreement, but since it did not, Mayes' settlement with Fed Ex didn't terminate the Second Injury Fund's liability.

"In the future, if the Board is concerned about double recovery, it should refuse approval of agreements involving confidential settlements or insist that the agreement contain a provision releasing the Second Injury Fund from liability," the chief justice wrote.

The high court determined in general, under Indiana statute, the Second Injury Fund's liability is a derivative of the employer's liability, and as such, settlements with third parties preclude Second Injury Fund eligibility.

The Indiana General Assembly's decision to make explicit reference to Second Injury Fund benefits in its enactment on termination after a third-party settlement led the court to rule the legislators intended for the liability of the Second Injury Fund to be a derivative of the employer's liability.

The policy of Indiana Code Section 22-3-2-13 is to bar any worker's compensation, regardless of who pays it, in the event the employee gets money from a third-party settlement that is as much or more than the total amount of recoverable compensation, he wrote.

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