ST. LOUIS — An injured Costco worker will not get to convert his weekly $799.11 permanent total disability benefits into a lump-sum settlement of $400,000, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District has ruled.
In a ruling issued on May 23, a three-judge panel upheld the state's Labor and Industrial Relations Commission's order denying a joint settlement Costco Wholesale Corp. had entered into with Andrew Dickemann.
The panel relied on state statute, finding that the intent of the legislature is to allow commutations of benefits to lump sum settlements only in "unusual circumstances."
"In the present case, neither party alleged any of the statutory requirements or an unusual circumstance warranting a commutation of Employee’s award," wrote Judge Philip M. Hess.
Judges Lawrence E. Mooney and James M. Dowd concurred.
Dickemann was injured while at work in July 2010, and after filing a claim with the company, an administrative law judge of the state's workers' compensation system determined he was entitled to nearly $800 weekly, according to background information in the ruling. The award became final in April 2014.
In November 2016, Dickemann and Costco entered into a joint agreement for a lump sum payout.
The commission denied approval of the settlement in January, finding that the agreement did not "contain allegations that, if true, would support commutation of the permanent disability award under § 287.530."
It also found that it lacked authority to approve the agreement because the parties did not "identify a dispute regarding the availability of award modifications" and that the parties further did not explain how the agreement was in accordance with employee's rights under the statute.
Dickemann's sole argument on appeal was that the commission misapplied the law and exceeded its authority because it was required to approve a joint agreement under the statute.
The panel held that the state legislature amended workers' compensation law in 2005, requiring courts to "strictly construe its provisions."
"Strict construction means that a 'statute can be given no broader application than is warranted by its plain and unambiguous terms.'”
The ruling states that the commission had calculated the value of Dickemann's award to be $590,000 and not $400,000, which neither Costco or Dickemann disputed.
"Moreover, none of the statutory grounds listed in § 287.530.1, or any unusual circumstances in general, were alleged in the Joint Agreement," the ruling states. "As such, the Joint Agreement could not be approved by the Commission under § 287.530. The Commission correctly applied the law when it denied the Joint Agreement."