Chiropractor's interests should have been protected before settlement was approved
Dr. Edward Barrington, D.C. v. Alaska Communications Systems Group, Inc., et al., Supreme Court No. S-12609, No. 6321 (Alaska 10/24/08).
What it means: A physician who has provided care to a workers' compensation claimant should be given notice of a pending settlement between the claimant and the employer when the claimant's and the physician's interests diverge and his absence affects his ability to protect his interests.
The claimant's treating physician referred her to a chiropractor for a permanent partial impairment evaluation after she experienced job-related pain. The chiropractor performed the evaluation, but the employer disputed the claimant's entitlement to benefits. The claimant and the employer entered into a settlement agreement, which gave the claimant $7,500 in exchange for which she waived future medical benefits. The agreement did not disclose the amount of her outstanding medical bills but indicated that the settlement would be more than sufficient to cover them. When the chiropractor sought payment of his bill from the employer, the board and the commission ruled that the settlement barred his claim. The Supreme Court disagreed and reversed. Because the chiropractor was not given notice of the pending settlement, he did not have the opportunity to protect his interests.
The court explained that although joinder of every health care provider is not required in every workers' compensation case, the chiropractor here should have been joined because his interests diverged from the claimant's. The employer and the claimant agreed to settle the case for an amount they knew was inadequate to pay all of the claimant's outstanding medical bills. Further, none of the health care providers with outstanding bills was given notice of the pending settlement. Finally, because the language in the settlement agreement was ambiguous, it was unclear whether the board was aware that there may not have been sufficient funds to cover all of the outstanding medical bills.
December 16, 2008
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