KENNETH S. DAVIS, Claimant-Below, Appellant,
CHRISTIANA CARE HEALTH SERVICES, Employer-Below, Appellee.
Submitted: November 20, 2014
Upon Consideration of Appellant's Appeal of the Decision of the Industrial Accident Board.
Michael B. Galbraith, Esquire, Weik, Nitsche, Dougherty & Galbraith, Wilmington, DE, Attorney for Appellant.
Maria Paris Newill, Esquire, and Gregory P. Skolnik, Esquire, Heckler & Frabizzio, Wilmington, DE, Attorneys for Appellee.
Claimant Kenneth S. Davis ("Claimant") appeals a decision of the Industrial Accident Board (the "Board") which dismissed his Petition to Determine Additional Compensation Due on the basis that Claimant's compensable, work-related injury had been settled by an earlier agreement between the parties. Employer Christiana Care Health Services ("Employer") maintains that the Board's decision should be affirmed because the parties intended the earlier settlement to resolve Claimant's Petition for additional benefits, including his claim for permanent impairment. Because the Court finds that the Board's interpretation of the prior settlement agreement was erroneous, the decision is REVERSED and REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Claimant alleged that on August 21, 2012, he suffered a work injury to his lower back when he slipped and fell while in the scope of his employment. As a result, Claimant received medical treatment through First State Surgery Center, Neurosurgical Consultants and Christiana Care Health Services. He filed a Petition to Determine Compensation Due before the Board on December 11, 2012. A Hearing on the Merits was scheduled for May 29, 2013.
Prior to the hearing date, by letter dated March 18, 2013, Employer extended an offer to settle Claimant's then-pending petition. Specifically, the correspondence from Employer advised settlement authority to: (1) "acknowledge the 8/21/12 work accident and a lumbar spine contusion-resolved;" and (2) "acknowledge a limited course of medical treatment[.]" In response, Claimant's counsel e-mailed Employer's counsel on May 13, 2013 and accepted Employer's offer as their acceptance of a "low back injury" and further stated his "understanding that this will resolve all issues presently pending before the [B]oard."
On May 16, 2013, Employer sent a confirmation letter to Claimant's counsel, confirming that a resolution had been reached in the matter, reiterating the above-stated offer, and adding that she had "requested that my client send medical only Agreements and Final Receipts . . . ." Employer drafted the formal documentation of their agreement, which included both a State of Delaware Office of Workers' Compensation Agreement as to Compensation Form (the "Agreement Form") as well as a Receipt for Compensation Paid (the "Receipt"). The Agreement Form provided for the payment of "medical only" expenses and categorized the nature of the injury as "lumbar spine contusion, resolved." The Receipt expressly stated that "the total sum of $0.00 was in settlement due for the "medical only disability of [Claimant]." Further, the Receipt acknowledged:
Your signature on this receipt will terminate your right to receive the workers' compensation benefits specified above on the date indicated. This form is not a release of the employer's or the insurance carrier's workers' compensation liability. It is merely a receipt of compensation paid. The claimant has the right within five years after the date of the last payment to petition the Office of Workers' Compensation for additional benefits [emphasis added].
Employer informed the Board on May 16, 2013 that there was no need for a Hearing on the Merits, as the parties had resolved their claims.
Eight months later, on January 23, 2014, Claimant underwent a medical evaluation with Dr. Rodgers who opined that claimant had suffered an 8% permanent impairment to the lumbar spine causally related to the August 21, 2012 work injury. On February 27, 2014, Claimant filed a Petition to Determine Additional Compensation Due (the "Permanency Petition") pursuant to 19 Del. C. § 2326. On April 16, 2014, Employer requested a Legal Hearing and asked the Board to dismiss the Permanency Petition on the grounds that it was contrary to the parties' prior agreement that the injury had been "resolved." On May 15, 2014, the Board conducted a Legal Hearing and found that because the May 2013 agreement categorized the ...