Is Strict Compliance With Settlement Agreement Terms Required?

agree_agreement_asian_black-1024x683If you sign a settlement agreement, you might feel relieved that you no longer have to go to trial. After all, settlements are generally thought to save you the time and expense of going to trial. But what happens if the other side fails to pay you the settlement funds by the terms of the settlement agreement?

Rapheal Guillory was injured while working at R&R Construction. He initially received workers’ compensation benefits, but they were eventually terminated. After his benefits were terminated, he filed a lawsuit against R&R, seeking his benefits, penalties, and attorney fees. Before the case went to trial, the parties settled. Under the settlement agreement, R&R agreed to pay Guillory a lump sum payment for the settlement amount by a set date. The workers’ compensation judge approved the settlement agreement. 

After the agreed-upon date for R&R to pay Guillory, R&R’s attorney delivered to Guillory’s attorney two checks, a release, and dismissal. However, the checks included language that Guillory claimed imposed improper conditions on receiving the settlement funds that were not part of their settlement agreement. Later, R&R paid the required expenses, but the check also included conditional language. 

Guillory then filed a motion to enforce the settlement. The workers’ compensation judge held R&R’s payment of the settlement amount was not untimely or unconditional. Following a brief trial on the amount of penalties, the workers’ compensation judge signed a judgment requiring R&R to pay penalties and attorney fees because it had not properly paid Guillory the settlement funds.

On appeal, R&R claimed the trial court erred in awarding penalties and attorney fees and that its payment was not conditional. The appellate court found the parties agreed to pay the settlement funds in a shortened time. Nothing prevents parties from agreeing to a shortened time to pay a workers’ compensation judgment. Therefore, the appellate court agreed with the trial court’s imposition of penalties and attorney’s fees. 

Concerning the language on the check that required Guillory to affirm he had not made false claims related to his workers’ compensation claim, the appellate court found the parties had not previously agreed upon the language on the settlement checks. Although R&R claimed this language merely restated La. R.S. 23:1208, the appellate court explained if that were true, there was no reason they needed to include the language in the first place. Therefore, the appellate court agreed this language was improper. 

On appeal, Guillory argued he should have been awarded $54,733.06 in attorney’s fees under La. R.S.23:1201(G), not the $3,000 the trial court granted him. The appellate court disagreed, finding the trial court had not abused its discretion as Guillory’s attorney had refused to let him accept an unconditional tender and had received a large penalty for R&R’s refusal to cooperate. However, the appellate court did award Guillory an additional $5,000 in attorney’s fees for his attorney’s work on the appeal.

Settlement agreements offer a way to resolve legal disputes efficiently and cost-effectively. However, when faced with non-compliance by the opposing party, it is crucial to take appropriate action to enforce the terms of the agreement. By seeking the expertise of a competent attorney, you can navigate the intricacies of settlement agreements and safeguard your rights, ultimately achieving the desired resolution.

Additional Sources: Rapheal Guillory, Jr. v. R &R Construction, Inc., et al.

Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Workers’ Compensation Settlement Agreements: Workers Comp Case Involves Settlement Dispute, Rights Review Louisiana First Circuit Says Settlement Not Enforceable Based on Email Communications

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