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McElderry v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co.

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

April 22, 2005

LARRY McELDERRY Petitioner
v.
ST. PAUL FIRE & MARINE INSURANCE COMPANY Respondent/Insurer.

          SUMMARY TO FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND ORDER

          Jeffrey M. Sherlock, District Court Judge.

         Summary: Following a settlement conference with the settlement master of the Workers' Compensation Court, the claimant, who was personally present during the conference and also represented by counsel, repudiated a putative settlement agreement reached during the conference. The matter was then transferred to District Court Judge Jeffrey M. Sherlock for a determination as to whether a binding settlement had been reached.

         Held: The claimant agreed to a binding and enforceable settlement agreement during the settlement conference.

         Topics:

Settlements: Oral Agreements. Where an unconditional oral agreement is made to settle a workers' compensation claim which is in litigation, the agreement is binding and enforceable.
Settlement Conferences: Oral Agreements. Where an unconditional oral agreement is made during a settlement conference to settle a workers' compensation claim which is in litigation, the agreement is binding and enforceable.

         FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW AND ORDER

         A hearing on Respondent St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company's (hereinafter St. Paul) motion to enforce settlement agreement was held on April 18, 2005. Petitioner Larry McElderry (hereinafter McElderry) was represented by James P. O'Brien. St. Paul was represented by Joe C. Maynard and James R. Hintz. This District Court is handling this matter at the request of the Workers' Compensation Court. As such, this Court is acting, for this motion only, as the Workers' Compensation Court.

         This matter arises out of McElderry's back injury incurred on December 15, 2000. At that time, McElderry was employed by Excalibur Cable Communication Company as a satellite dish installer. At the time of the injury, McElderry's employer was enrolled under Plan II of the Workers' Compensation Act with the insurer being St. Paul. McElderry filed a claim for workers' compensation, and St. Paul accepted the claim and paid benefits.

         Prior to the December 2000 injury, McElderry had a number of lower back injuries. As a result of one of McElderry's earlier injuries, he was assigned a 19 percent impairment rating and was paid $50, 000.

         After the December 2000 injury, McElderry's two treating physicians, Dr. Catherine Capps and Dr. John I. Moseley, both placed McElderry at maximum medical improvement. Dr. Capps did this in October 2001, and Dr. Moseley did so in January 2002.

         A settlement conference was held in Helena, Montana, on June 18, 2002. Present were Charles G. Adams, attorney for McElderry; McElderry; and McElderry's wife. Also present were Joe C. Maynard, attorney for St. Paul; Cathy Anderson, St. Paul's representative and claims adjuster; and Jay Dufrechou, the law clerk to Workers' Compensation Judge Mike McCarter. Dufrechou was acting as mediator at the settlement conference.

         The issue presently before this Court is whether a binding agreement was reached at the June 18, 2002, settlement conference. At the hearing before this Court, Charles Adams testified that the parties did reach an agreement as was evidenced by Exhibit 3. Exhibit 3 is a settlement agreement that was sent by Joe Maynard to Adams. According to Adams, Exhibit 3 is an accurate rendition of the parties' agreement and is a common form used by practitioners and which is located on the Workers' Compensation website. Adams testified that after the settlement was orally agreed upon, McElderry was upset because he did not want to close out his medical benefits entitlement. Adams informed McElderry that the offer was that St. Paul would pay him $15, 000 to "walk away." This would close out McElderry's medical entitlement, would close his entitlement to any future benefits from St. Paul, and would release all claims between the parties, including McElderry's right to later sue the insurance company, its adjusters or its attorneys. Adams indicates that he described the agreement as such to McElderry and received McElderry's approval of the agreement.

         Cathy Anderson also testified at the hearing. Anderson was the claims adjuster on McElderry's claim for Crawford and Company. Anderson indicated that, at the settlement conference, she did not actually sit in the same room with McElderry. McElderry, his wife and Adams were in one room, and she and Maynard were in another room with Dufrechou shuttling between them. According to Anderson, she felt the parties had ...


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