SAMUEL L. GATES, Employee/Appellant-Petitioner, v. COSTCO WHOLESALE, and SEDGWICK CLAIM SERVS., Employer-Insurer, and MN DEP=T OF HUMAN SERVS., MN DEP=T OF LABOR & INDUS./VRU, COLUMBIA PARK MED. GROUP, UNITY HOSP., NURSE ANESTHESIA SERVS., NORIDIAN ADMIN. SERVS., AND NORAN NEUROLOGICAL CLINIC, Intervenors.
WORKERS= COMPENSATION COURT OF APPEALS
JANUARY 14, 2005
SETTLEMENT - INTERPRETATION. Given the extensive factual issues in this matter, the compensation judge erred in determining that the employee=s claims were foreclosed by the stipulation without conducting an evidentiary hearing.
Vacated and remanded; petition to vacate denied.
Determined by: Stofferahn, J., Wilson, J., and Rykken, J.
Compensation Judge: Cheryl LeClair-Sommer
Attorneys: Thomas C. Hannon, Minneapolis, MN, for the Appellant-Petitioner. Nancy E. Lamo, McCollum, Crowley, Moschet & Miller, Bloomington, MN, for the Respondents.
DAVID A. STOFFERAHN, Judge
The employee has appealed the compensation judge=s order of May 27, 2004, which determined that the employee=s claims arising out of his right elbow condition were barred by a stipulation for settlement which was the subject of an award on stipulation on October 9, 2001. The employee has petitioned to vacate the 2001 stipulation. We vacate the compensation judge=s order and remand this case to the Office of Administrative Hearings for an evidentiary hearing. The employee=s petition to vacate is denied.
In 2001, the employee, Samuel Gates, and the employer, Costco Wholesale, settled the employee=s claims for benefits arising out of injuries sustained at Costco. In the stipulation, the parties agreed that the employee had sustained a work-related injury to his right wrist in the nature of carpal tunnel syndrome on February 27, 2001. The employee also claimed a work injury on March 26, 2001, identified in the stipulation as a rib injury. The employer denied primary liability for the alleged March 2001 injury. The employee claimed that as a result of his injuries, he was entitled to various benefits, including benefits for wage loss. The stipulation further provided that the parties agreed to Afully, finally and completely settle and forever discharge any and all past, present, and future claims for non-medical compensation or benefits under the Minnesota Workers= Compensation Law arising out of the alleged injuries of February 27, 2001, and March 26, 2001.@ The stipulation contained an additional provision that Aall of the terms and conditions of this stipulation for settlement apply to any and all claimed or alleged injuries of the employee while the employee was employed by the self-insured employer.@
On February 8, 2002, the employee, now represented by a new attorney, filed a claim petition, alleging an overuse injury to his right elbow as a result of his employment with Costco. A number of amended claim petitions were subsequently filed and the employee=s claims were ultimately set for hearing on May 25, 2004, before Compensation Judge Cheryl LeClair-Sommer.
In preliminary discussions before the hearing and in his opening statement, the employee=s attorney advised the compensation judge that the employee=s claim was that he had sustained Gillette injuries to his right elbow and right shoulder at Costco. The employee=s attorney did not identify any dates of injury, but the most recent amended claim petition alleged dates of February 27, 2001, March 21, 2001, and March 26, 2001. In his opening statement, the employer=s attorney argued that the 2001 stipulation closed out all injuries the employee had while working for Costco. The employee had apparently stopped his employment there in July 2001. The employer=s attorney also raised other defenses the employer had to the employee=s claims if the stipulation did not preclude the employee=s claims.
Based on the opening statements, the compensation judge determined that the employee=s claims were barred by the 2001 stipulation. The compensation judge admitted into evidence the documentary evidence offered by the parties but took no testimony. In her order of May 27, 2004, the compensation judge modified her decision and ordered that the employee=s claims for benefits due to the right elbow condition were foreclosed by the 2001 stipulation because Athe employee had knowledge of a claimed right elbow injury at the time the parties entered into the stipulation for settlement.@ The compensation judge also ordered the parties to supply additional information so that she could determine if the right shoulder claim was also barred by the stipulation.
The employee has appealed the compensation judge=s order and has also filed a petition to vacate the 2001 stipulation.
The employee=s appeal brings before this court the question of the extent to which a stipulation bars subsequent claims which are alleged to arise out of the same injuries. The leading case on this question is Sweep v. Hanson Silo Co., 391 N.W. 2d 817, 39 W.C.D. 51 (Minn. 1986) in which the supreme court affirmed a decision by this court which did not approve a proposed stipulation. The proposed stipulation had provided that all claims for any injury which had occurred during the employee=s employment would be closed out. The supreme court stated that this provision was impermissibly broad in closing out such claims where Aemployee has made no claim based on such injuries and they were not a subject of dispute between the parties.@ 391 N.W.2d at 822, 39 W.C.D. at 57.
In the present case, the employer argued at hearing that the 2001 stipulation was a Aglobal@ settlement of any injury which the employee may have sustained at Costco. Such an interpretation of the 2001 stipulation would be contrary to Sweep. However, the compensation judge did not accept this argument in her written order and the employer has not pursued this argument before this court. In addition to the Aglobal@ language in the 2001 stipulation, there is a separate provision which closes out all claims arising out of the injuries alleged to have been sustained by the employee at Costco on February 27, 2001, and March 26, 2001. The question remains as to the effect of the 2001 stipulation on the employee=s present claims.
In accordance with Sweep, this court has not allowed a stipulation to foreclose claims not contemplated by the parties at the time of the settlement. In Fitzsimmons v. Alberta Gas Chem., Inc., slip op. (W.C.C.A. June 27, 1995), this court concluded that a stipulation which closed out all claims arising out of a May 6, 1982, injury did not bar a subsequent claim for benefits from a low back condition alleged to be due to the 1982 injury when the stipulation did not refer to a low back condition and described the injuries as being burns. This court stated, AA stipulation for settlement covers only those claims or rights that are specifically mentioned in the agreement.@ In other cases, this court has refused to allow a stipulation to bar subsequent claims when there was no evidence that the employee was asserting a claim at the time of the settlement for the condition which was the subject of the subsequent claim. Munkelwitz v. Bladholm Brothers, slip op. (W.C.C.A. July 28, 1993); Menzel v. American Restaurant Group, slip op. (W.C.C.A. May 6, 1999).
In the present case, while there is some indication in the medical records that the employee had pain in his right forearm and elbow before the settlement, there is no evidence that the employee was asserting a claim for this condition at the time of the stipulation and the stipulation identified the February and March 2001 injuries as right carpal tunnel and rib. Accordingly we conclude that the 2001 stipulation does not prohibit the employee=s present claims for his right elbow and shoulder. The compensation judge=s order is vacated and this case is remanded to the Office of Administrative Hearings for a full evidentiary hearing on the employee=s claim petition and amended claim petitions.
In view of our conclusion, the employee=s Petition to Vacate, arguing that there has been an unanticipated substantial change in his medical condition, need not be considered. The Petition to Vacate is denied.
Gillette v. Harold Inc., 257 Minn. 313, 101 N.W. 2d 200, 21 W.C.D. 105 (1960).