Workers’ compensation settlements in Arkansas are for employees that have been injured at their job. The injured employee has the right to get workers’ compensation benefits by filing a claim on their employer’s insurance policy. It is a no-fault system as it works in favor of both the employee and employer. Generally, the employee gets compensation for the work injury, whether or not it was their fault.
There are exceptions such as if the employee intentionally injures herself/himself, the employee is injured when not performing employment services, the employee is injured while engaging in horseplay, or if the employee is injured while engaging in an assault. Additionally, there is a presumption against employee benefits if the employee tests positive for an illegal drug (marijuana) or is intoxicated at the time of the injury.
Employers in Arkansas are bound by law to have workers’ compensation insurance coverage. This rule applies to most employers with three or more employees. If the employer and their insurance company accept your claim, you will be able to get two-thirds of your weekly wage up to a maximum of $711.00 per week and coverage of reasonable and necessary medical expenses.
These payments usually continue until you have recovered enough to come back to work. In some cases, such as when returning to work making lower wages, workers can be entitled to additional payments often referred to as temporary partial disability payments or possibly wage loss disability payments.
Workers’ Compensation Settlements in Arkansas
There is basically one type of workers’ compensation settlement in Arkansas: a lump-sum settlement. A lump sum settlement ends the workers’ compensation case.
A lump-sum settlement is known as a Joint Petition (JP) whereby the employee receives a one-time payment and gives up the right to future funds even if the injury gets worse over time. You can also agree to a lump-sum settlement in case of a work injury that resulted in damage or loss to a particular body part. Even if you can come back to work, you are still eligible for a compromise settlement payment. However practically speaking, most lump sum settlements result in termination of the employment relationship.
In most states, after receiving the lump-sum payment, the employee will not receive any medical accommodation in the future. Even if the injury gets worse in a few days, weeks, or months, the employee will still not receive any medical support. This is why Arkansas requires a settlement hearing before settlements can be approved.
Lump sum settlements in Arkansas Workers’ Compensation cases must be approved by a workers’ compensation judge also known as an administrative law judge. Prior to COVID almost all approvals were made in person, and the judge is allowed to ask questions of both parties. A judge does not have to approve a settlement, if the judge does not believe the settlement is in the best interest of both the parties.
At the hearing, the injured workers’ attorney asks questions of the injured worker. The claimant must testify under oath that he or she believes the settlement is in his or her best interest, and the employer’s attorney also testifies that the settlement is in the employer’s best interest. If the parties do not agree that the settlement is in both of their best interests, the judge will not approve the settlement.
Additionally, the employee must testify that they understand their rights and have had an opportunity to go over all the settlement terms with their own attorney at least five days in advance of the hearing. Since COVID, the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission has allowed settlement hearings to be commenced by video using Zoom and has also allowed settlements to be presented in writing by way of verified interrogatory answers. However, the preferred settlement approval method is via an in person hearing.
It’s important to remember that after negotiating a settlement and obtaining court approval, there is no going back. You cannot change your mind and you cannot appeal after the settlement has been approved. The settlement negotiations must be through and must include child support obligations as well as subrogation issues involving other insurance carriers that may have paid benefits that should have been paid by the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier.
For example, there are instances when the doctor’s office may bill your health insurance carrier instead of the workers’ compensation carrier. So all of these issues must be considered when before signing the Joint Petition (JP) settlement agreement. Critically analyzing your options is vital for receiving the right amount of compensation for your injury.
Contact a Workers’ Compensation Attorney
In any case, it’s a sensible decision to consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to make sure you get a fair deal. While there is an approval hearing before a workers compensation judge, those hearings rarely last more than ten (10) minutes.
Having your own attorney ensures you get the right amount of settlement that you deserve and ensures that you have had plenty of time to discuss your options well in advance of the settlement hearing. Additionally, it is difficult to fight your case, while recovering from an injury and not knowing the workers’ compensation laws. Therefore, hiring a professional will ensure that you get the medical expenses and disability benefits you are entitled to under Arkansas law.