WHY AN INJURED WORKER SHOULD SIGN A VIRGINIA WORKERS' COMPENSATION AWARD AGREEMENT
If the Virginia workers' compensation insurance company ACCEPTS your injury, the adjuster is required to send the injured worker an Award Agreement (also called an Agreement to Pay Benefits form). This form will state: the injured body parts covered for lifetime medical care, compensation rate for two-thirds of lost wages, and the date compensation will begin. After the injured worker signs the Award Agreement, s/he should return it to the adjuster for his/her signature. Then the adjuster should file the Award Agreement with the VWC Commission. Once approved by the Commission, an Award Order will be issued. After the Award Order has been entered for 30 days, the insurer cannot vacate the Award Order.
At a recent Virginia workers' compensation seminar, a Commissioner explained that a Lifetime Medical Award for a “back strain” will usually cover ALL injuries to the back such as herniated discs, etc. To be safe, the injured worker may request to amend the Award Order to add additional body parts.
Also, the Commissioner pointed out recent case law confirmed that signing an Award Agreement for one body part does not preclude one from filing later to add additional body parts as long as the new claim is filed within two (2) years of the date of accident
On the other hand, the Commissioner said litigation may preclude the injured worker from adding additional body parts to the Award Order if those claims are not specifically reserved in the litigation. Thus, the Award Agreement does not have the same preclusive effect as does a litigated case.
The rationale is Award Agreements are favored by the Commission as part of its administrative function. Award Agreements are not used as “traps” by insurers to foreclose claimants from their truly meritorious claims.Should you sign your Award Agreement? Ask Gerald Lutkenhaus, an attorney with over 35 years of experience, at (804) 335-0268.