Here’s a unique twist:
Does that workers’ compensation settlement agreement release the ERISA disability claim? Probably not, unless the release explicitly mentions ERISA claims and the ERISA Plan.
Here’s the case of Duncan v. Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company, 2013 WL 506465 (E.D. Cal. February 8, 2013)(workers’ compensation release did not eliminate ERISA disability claim). This case also has a nice discussion on the issue of standard of review and when the court should remand. The court remanded, rather than changing the standard of review from discretion to de novo.
FACTS. Teresa Duncan made an ERISA long term disability claim. Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company, administrator of Lorillard Tobacco Company’s plan, paid Duncan disability benefits from 2005 to 2010.
In 2008 Duncan settled her workers’ compensation claim. She signed a release of all claims, which included language that she would “not be able to go back to the defendant for additional treatment or disability payments….”
Lorillard (not Hartford) contended that when Duncan signed this release she also released her ERISA long term disability claim “after the date” the release was signed.
TRIAL COURT HELD: Lorillard’s argument went up in smoke: The worker compensation release did not bar or limit Duncan’s ERISA disability claim.
TRIAL COURT RATIONALE:
1. Federal law always governs the validity of releases of federal causes of action. But state decisions “will furnish an appropriate and convenient measure of the governing federal law.” Op. at 6.
2. Standard language used in a workers’ compensation claim release applies only to those claims that are within the scope of the workers’ compensation system. Id.
3. Lorillard has the burden of proving its affirmative defense that the release precludes liability for Duncan’s ERISA claim. Id.
4. The compromise and release “neither references ERISA or the receipt of ERISA benefits, nor contains language otherwise indicating that the settlement was meant to encompass claims outside of the workers’ compensation system.” Id.
5. The release does not explicitly mention the ERISA plan by name, nor does it mention ERISA by name Op. at 6-7.