GLORIA LARSON, Employee/Appellant, v. ST. LOUIS CO., SELF-INSURED, Employer, and HRI for MEDICA CHOICE, Intervenor, and SPECIAL COMPENSATION FUND.
WORKERS= COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
APRIL 10, 2002
SETTLEMENTS - INTERPRETATION; CAUSATION - CONSEQUENTIAL INJURY. The compensation judge erred in concluding that a stipulation for settlement barred the employee=s subsequent claim for a consequential injury that had not yet occurred and was not in dispute at the time of the settlement.
Determined by Wilson, J., Pederson, J., and Rykken, J.
Compensation Judge: Donald C. Erickson
DEBRA A. WILSON, Judge
The employee appeals from the compensation judge=s finding that a 1993 settlement foreclosed the employee=s subsequent claim for a consequential injury. We reverse.
On July 27, 1991, and September 5, 1992, the employee allegedly sustained work-related injuries to her low back. The employer, St. Louis County, denied primary liability. The employee also sustained an admitted work-related injury to her low back on September 4, 1991, while working for the employer.
The employee served and filed a claim petition on February 3, 1993, seeking temporary total disability benefits continuing from September 15, 1992, as a result of the three work injuries. The parties subsequently entered into a stipulation for settlement. The stipulation provided that the employee would receive $22,000.00, less attorney fees, in full, final, and complete settlement of all claims arising out of those three injuries, with the exception of medical expenses related to the September 4, 1991, injury. The stipulation specifically closed out all future claims for chiropractic treatments. An award on stipulation was filed on September 24, 1993.
The employee filed a claim petition on January 3, 2000, seeking permanent total disability benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, and medical expenses for a consequential injury to the neck that allegedly occurred during chiropractic treatment for her low back in January of 1999. The claim petition listed July 27, 1991, September 4, 1991, and September 5, 1992, as the low back injury dates. In its answer, the employer denied primary liability for the alleged injuries of July 1991 and September 1992 and contended that the employee=s claims were barred by collateral estoppel and res judicata.
When the matter proceeded to hearing, issues included whether the September 1993 stipulation for settlement foreclosed the employee=s claim for a consequential injury sustained while receiving chiropractic care, and, if not, whether the employee had sustained a consequential injury related to the admitted 1991 injury or the alleged 1991 and/or 1992 injuries; whether the employee was entitled to permanent total disability benefits (or in the alternative, temporary total and temporary partial disability benefits), permanent partial disability benefits, and supplementary benefits; and whether the intervenor was entitled to reimbursement for medical expenses. In findings and order filed on October 11, 2001, the compensation judge found that, under the terms of the stipulation for settlement, the employee was precluded from pursuing her claim for a consequential injury. The employee appeals.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A[A] decision which rests upon the application of a statute or rule to essentially undisputed facts generally involves a question of law which [the Workers= Compensation Court of Appeals] may consider de novo.@ Krovchuk v. Koch Oil Refinery, 48 W.C.D. 607, 608 (W.C.C.A. 1993).
The employee contends that it is well settled that a consequential injury claim cannot be foreclosed by a prior full, final, and complete settlement. We agree.
This court has previously relied on Sweep v. Hanson Silo Co., 391 N.W.2d 817, 39 W.C.D. 51 (Minn. 1986), in holding that stipulation for settlement language is impermissibly broad where it purports to compromise claims for consequential injuries that were not in existence or the subject of dispute between the parties at the time of the stipulation. For example, in Munkelwitz v. Bladholm Bros., slip op. (W.C.C.A. July 28, 1993), we held that an alleged consequential left knee injury was not closed out by the full, final, and complete settlement of the employee=s right knee injury, where there was no evidence or claim of left knee injury at the time of the settlement. Similarly, in Golen v. J.C. Penney Co., slip op. (W.C.C.A. Oct. 27, 1993), this court held that a claim for consequential depression was not closed out by a full, final, and complete settlement closing out all claims Apast, present and future, known or unknown, relating to the personal injury.@ And, in Buske v. Minnesota Dept. of Human Services, slip op. (W.C.C.A. Nov. 5, 1999), we cited Sweep, Munkelwitz, and Golen in holding that stipulation for settlement language that provided that Aany consequential injuries . . . are foreclosed@ did not foreclose an employee=s subsequent claim for a consequential injury to another body part.
In his memorandum, the compensation judge explained that it was his understanding that, where there was a denial of primary liability and a close out of future benefits in a stipulation for settlement, an employee was forever foreclosed Afrom any recovery beyond that contained in the Stipulation, including consequential injuries.@ We disagree. We see no reason to distinguish between the above-cited cases, all of which involved settlement of admitted injuries, and the instant case, which involves a denial of primary liability. Nor do we see any reason to distinguish this case based on the fact that the consequential injury was caused by chiropractic treatment that had been closed out by the stipulation for settlement. The relevant fact is that the claimed consequential injury had not occurred and was not the subject of dispute at the time of the stipulation for settlement. Accordingly, the stipulation for settlement cannot be interpreted as closing out claims arising out of that injury.
The compensation judge did not specifically conclude that the employee had sustained a consequential injury to her neck as a result of the September 5, 1992, work injury; however, it is obvious from his other findings and his memorandum that that conclusion formed the basis for his alternative findings regarding benefits. As none of the alternative findings were appealed, we reverse the judge=s finding that the stipulation for settlement foreclosed the employee=s claim for a consequential injury and order that payments be made pursuant to Findings 22 and 23, based on the September 5, 1992, injury date, and that statutory attorney fees be withheld from those payments and paid to attorney James B. Peterson. We further order that, because the employer=s counsel stated at hearing that he had no objection Ato any items in the intervention interests of HRI for Medica Choice,@ the intervenor should be reimbursed according to its claim, subject to the applicable fee schedule.
 The compensation judge found that the claim petition was filed on January 13, 1993, apparently based on a subsequent stipulation for settlement regarding a medical request.
 The compensation judge specified September 23, 1993, as the date that the award was served and filed, but that was the date that the award was signed.
 The judge also made alternative findings regarding temporary total, temporary partial, permanent partial, and supplementary benefits, which were not appealed.
 In Sweep, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that a stipulation was broader than permissible where it purported to close out claims for work-related injuries other than the injury specifically identified, where such injuries were not a subject of the dispute between the parties at the time of the settlement.
 At Finding 21, the compensation judge stated, Aas the employee=s current claims arise out of the September 5, 1992, injury (i.e., are not causally related to the September 4, 1991, injury) she is precluded under the terms of the stipulation from pursuing her current claim for a consequential injury related to the September 5, 1992 injury.@ At Finding 22, the judge found, A[i]f the employee were not precluded by the Stipulation from pursuing her claims of a consequential injury, she would be entitled to temporary total . . . temporary partial . . . and permanent partial disability benefits . . . .@ Later, in his memorandum, the compensation judge stated that Athe September 4, 1991 injury was not related to the need for treatment from Dr. Lukovsky in 1999. The injury that caused the need for treatment was the September 5, 1992 injury.@
 In an unappealed finding, the compensation judge found that the employee had sustained a work-related injury to her low back on September 5, 1992, while lifting an uncooperative nursing home resident.