Workers Compensation Judges and Labor Commission Retain Jurisdiction to Award Future Medical Benefits Previously Allowed by Settlement or After Trial

The case of State ex rel. ISP Minerals v. Labor & Industrial Relations Commission was decided by the full Missouri Supreme Court n July 21, 2015. There is a general legal rule that once a Missouri workers compensation administrative law judge or the appeal board/Missouri Labor and Industrial Relations Commission approves a settlement or rules on a contested case decided after a trial, after a certain deadline for filing a appeal has passed the judge or Commission loses all jurisdiction over any aspect of the settlement agreement or legal decision.

An injured worker named Alcorn settled his claim with his employer, ISP Minerals, for a lump sum for permanent partial disability for a pulmonary (lung) condition contracted from exposure to a chemical dust from employer’s mining operation. The settlement agreement, officially approved by an administrative law judge of the Missouri Division of Workers Compensation, contained a provision granting Alcorn future medical treatment if needed for that pulmonary condition “to leave future related pulmonary med. care open” and authorized such medical care for his COPD and obstructed airways through a particular lung doctor in St. Louis.

Some years later the lung doctor whom the settlement authorized to recommend perform such future medical treatment prescribed Alcorn certain inhalers for his work-related lung condition. ISP Minerals filed with the court of appeals for what is called a “writ of prohibition”. Writs of prohibition are a type of court order a party can get when they believe that a judge has acted in excess of his jurisdiction and wants to get a higher appellate court to issue a ruling (writ) “prohibiting” (barring) the judge from ordering it.

ISP Minerals argued to the appeals court that no administrative law judge had the power to order future medical benefits, even if provided for in a judge-approved settlement or judge’s decision after a trial on a case, since the judge’s power to order anything had run out after no appeal to the judge’s approval of the settlement was filed. They argued that if Alcorn did not like it and wanted future medical benefits ordered, he had file a lawsuit to convince a regular circuit court judge to award the future medical, but that the administrative law judge had lost jurisdiction after the settlement to order even future medical treatment ISP had agreed to in the settlement!

Alcorn’s attorney argued to the Court of Appeals that unless an administrative law judge retained jurisdiction (after approval of the settlement or handing down of a decision after a trial) to order an employer and its insurance company to pay the very future medical benefits provided for in the settlement or judge’s decision, how could the injured worker’s rights to such future medical benefits ever be enforced in case the company refused to pay such benefits other than by going through the hassle of filing a court lawsuit.

Not surprisingly, Alcorn’s lawyers won the argument. Basically, the Missouri Supreme Court held that it was not going to allow an employer such as ISP Minerals first to agree to the injured worker’s getting certain future medical benefits, then after approval of the settlement not be allowed to order such agreed to benefits because the judge had lost all jurisdiction over every aspect of the case after approving the settlement.

Other cases had barred the administrative law judge from changing a settlement or issuing a new decision once 30 days had passed from the date the settlement was approved or the judge issued his decision on a contested case. Judges would be barred from changing a settlement or a decision after a certain number of days had passed without an appeal being filed. However, Alcorn’s case was totally different from that because Alcorn was not trying to get a workers compensation to change a settlement or decision after the deadline appeal had passed.

He was trying to get a judge to enforce the injured worker’s established right to future workmen’s compensation benefits that had intentionally been left open to be applied for by the injured worker after the settlement was approved or decision issued. Such benefits were meant to be applied for only after the settlement had been approved. This case just goes to show how far some employer or insurance company’s are willing to go to put up legal roadblocks to injured workers simply trying to enforce their right to benefits.

St. Louis Workers Compensation Center can defend and demand your rights to workers compensation benefits. They can fight to legally enforce your rights. They can prevent the company from canceling or underpaying your benefits. Please call Tom Hyatt for advice and assistance on any work-related injury suffered on the job in St. Louis County, Jefferson County, St. Louis City, Franklin County, St. Charles County, Warren County, Lincoln County, or any other counties in eastern Missouri within 125 miles of the greater St. Louis metropolitan area.

Our consultations are completely free of charge. Tom Hyatt will talk to you about your case right away. He will fight as hard he can to enforce all of your rights to Missouri workers compensation benefits. Our attorney’s fee would be a modest percentage of the Missouri workers’ comp disability benefits we get for you. Please call now for a free consultation. (See Contact Us). We are here to help you fight for your rightful benefits.

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