You May Be Able to Resolve Your Virginia Workers Compensation Case through Award Agreement Forms
Many employees who are hurt on the job in Virginia are forced to fight for every workers compensation benefit they’re owed. The insurance company providing coverage to their employer is willing to act unreasonably and do everything it can to protect its own profits at the expense of the injured worker.
But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the insurance company will respond to your Virginia workers compensation claim by offering award agreement forms. This allows you to resolve your claim without having to prove your right to benefits at a workers compensation hearing.
This article explains what a workers compensation award agreement is, what you should look out for when deciding whether to sign it, and what will happen with your claim after you sign it. We recommend contacting an experienced workers comp attorney before signing any award agreements. These forms are often binding contracts that have a big impact on your health and financial well-being.
Call, text, or e-mail Corey Pollard today for a free consultation. We represent injured workers across Virginia, including those in Richmond, Newport News, Fredericksburg, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach.
The Virginia Workers Compensation Act Encourages the Parties to Sign Award Agreement Forms
Many workers comp claims are resolved without the need for litigation. The Virginia Workers Compensation Act encourages the parties to try to resolve their differences without litigation by allowing for the entry of award agreement forms. The entry of an award based on agreement forms means that the employer and its insurance company accept that you suffered an injury by accident arising out of and in the course of your employment.
Virginia Code Section 65.2-701 is entitled “Agreement as to compensation; penalty.” It states:
If after an injury or death, the employer and the injured employee or his dependents reach an agreement in regard to compensation … a memorandum of the agreement in the form prescribed by the Commission shall be filed with the Commission for approval. The agreement may be prepared by the employee, the employer or the compensation carrier. If approved, the agreement shall be binding, and an award of compensation entered upon such agreement shall be for all purposes enforceable …
The statute states further:
An employer or insurance carrier which fails to file a memorandum of such agreement with the Commission within fourteen calendar days of the date of its complete written execution as indicated thereon may be subject to a fine not to exceed $1,000 and to any other appropriate sanctions of the Commission.
Let’s break this statute down further.
The Commission will enter an Award Order if any of the parties to a claim files an Award Agreement that contains the signature of both the injured worker and the claims adjuster. This Award Order will carry the same weight as a judicial opinion issued by a workers compensation judge. It is binding on the parties.
If the parties sign an Award Agreement but the employer and insurer hold on to it for too long, the Commission has the power to punish the employer and insurer. It has this ability so that the employer and insurer are encouraged to file the award agreement forms right away. Rule 4.1 of the Rules of the Workers Compensation Commission also requires the employer to promptly file all agreements as to payment of compensation with the Commission.
The Commission knows that some employers and insurance companies may hold on to the signed award agreements to see if you get better and to make sure that you continue to have the burden of proof on your claim. The ability to sanction employers and insurers for delay helps prevent this from happening and makes sure that you get your award of temporary total disability, permanent disability, and lifetime medical benefits as soon as possible.
How to Complete the Workers Comp Award Agreement Form
Roughly ten years ago the Commission renamed the form used to memorialize agreements between the parties. Instead of completing an agreement to pay benefits, the parties now sign and file an Award Agreement. This form is available on the Commission’s website.
The agreement award form must contain the following information:
- The employer’s name, address, and telephone number
- Your name, address, and telephone number
- Your attorney’s name, address, and telephone number
- The name, address, and telephone number of the employer’s representative (this is either the defense attorney or the insurance claims adjuster)
- Your pre-injury average weekly wage
- The date of your accident
- The injured body parts or occupational diseases accepted as compensable by the employer and insurer
- Whether this is the first award agreement entered in your case or a supplemental award agreement
- The benefits the parties have agreed (wage loss, permanent disability, permanent total, or medical only)
- When your weekly wage loss benefits begin, if applicable
- When your weekly wage loss benefits end, if applicable
- Whether you are accepting a lump sum payment with a 4% discount if you’re being awarded permanent partial disability benefits for loss of use, scarring, or disfigurement
The Commission will enter an Award Order when the parties execute and file an award agreement form. The entry of an award establishes the body parts accepted under the award, the average weekly wage, the weekly compensation rate, the periods of wage loss benefits that will be paid, and that the employer must pay for all reasonable, necessary, and authorized medical treatment related to the injury for the rest of the employee’s life
Important Things to Consider Before Signing and Filing an Award Agreement Form with the Commission
Though you are gaining some rights when you sign an agreement form, you may be giving up others by doing so. Make sure that the information on the award agreement is complete and accurate.
The two areas of concern are:
- The pre-injury average weekly wage: The insurance company wants you to accept a lower pre-injury average weekly wage because this limits the overall value of your case for wage loss and settlement purposes.
- The body parts and injuries accepted. Often insurance companies will accept some injuries but not others. Make sure the award agreement form is complete. If it does not contain all the injuries you are alleging then you will need to file a protective claim with the Commission to ensure that you do not waive any future claims for the injuries not listed on the agreement form.
Common Questions About Award Agreement Forms in Virginia Workers’ Comp
Here are some common questions that we receive from injured employees who have been offered award agreement forms from their employer and its workers compensation insurance company:
Is it good enough that the claims adjuster said my workers’ comp claim was accepted on the phone?
No, an oral agreement that your claim is approved is not good enough under the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act. Anything you agree to must be in writing and signed by the parties for the Commission to consider approving it. Do not sit back and relax until the Commission enters an Award Order for all injuries you suffered in the work accident.
If you don’t miss any time from work after your compensable injury, or if you miss less than seven days of work, the Commission will still enter an Agreement Form. You will have a Medical Only Award.
If the parties sign and file an agreement form, and the Commission approves the agreement and enters an Award Order, then you will likely not need a hearing on that claim. There are some circumstances where you will though. For example, the parties may agree on everything but the body parts injured. In that case you would go to hearing on the disputed body parts.
The entry of an Award Order does not close your case. In some cases an injured employee will receive five or more Award Orders. This is because multiple claims can be filed within one Virginia workers’ compensation case.
Either party can withdraw consent to approval of an agreement, even after the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission has entered an Award Order. There is, however, a caveat.
The party wishing to withdraw its consent must make a proper request for review within thirty days of the date the award was issued. See Sovran Financial Corp. v. Nanney, 12 Va. App. 1156, 408 S.E.2d 266 (1991). Failure to request review within the 30-day period will lead to denial of the request to vacate the award absent fraud or mistake. In other words, you’re out of luck in most cases if you fail to request review or move to vacate the award within 30 days after it was entered..
No. There is no difference between an accepted Virginia workers’ compensation claim based on an agreement form and an approved Virginia workers’ compensation claim based on a deputy commissioner’s decision after a hearing. The Award Order has the same binding effect on the parties as a written decision from a deputy commissioner or the full Commission.
What rights do I have once an Award Order is entered based on an agreement form?
Under Virginia Code Section 65.2-710 the Commission will enforce an Award Order.
Get a Workers Compensation Attorney to Review Your Award Agreement
The entry of an award order after the parties sign award agreement forms is just the start. An approved workers compensation claim may be followed by many important events. We recommend contacting an experienced attorney to guide you through the process.