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Hinkle v. A.B. Dick Co.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Second Division

July 8, 2014

STENA HINKLE, Appellant,
v.
A.B. DICK COMPANY, Respondent

APPEAL FROM THE LABOR AND INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS COMMISSION.

Joseph K. Lewis, Jr., for Appellant.

Julie Neese Sample, for Respondent.

Before Division Two: Victor C. Howard, Presiding Judge, Alok Ahuja, Judge and Gary D. Witt, Judge. All concur.

OPINION

Victor C. Howard, Presiding Judge

Page 686

Stena Hinkle appeals from the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission's order denying a joint motion to settle and commute her weekly death benefits award into a lump sum. The order is reversed, and the case is remanded with directions.

Factual Background

On May 17, 2004, Mrs. Hinkle's husband, David Hinkle, died in an automobile accident while making a service call within the course and scope of his employment as a printing press service technician with A.B. Dick Co. After her husband's death, Mrs. Hinkle filed a claim for compensation. In March 2007, based on stipulated facts, the ALJ approved payments by the employer/insurer to Mrs. Hinkle of $437.90 in medical expenses and a statutory burial allowance of $5000. In addition, the ALJ

Page 687

awarded Mrs. Hinkle weekly death benefits of $478.08 to continue until her remarriage or death and subject to modification and review by the Commission.

In the ensuing years, Mrs. Hinkle did not remarry. In September 2013, she and employer/insurer voluntarily entered into and filed with the Commission a Stipulation for Voluntary Settlement and Agreement to Commute Award and a Joint Motion for Approval of Stipulation and Agreement to Commute Award whereby the parties agreed, subject to approval of the Commission, that employer/insurer shall pay Mrs. Hinkle a one-time lump sum of $200,000 as full and final settlement and commutation of the March 2007 award. The Stipulation and Joint Motion further provided that Mrs. Hinkle had entered into an attorney's fee agreement with Joseph K. Lewis for legal representation in the matter, which provides for payment of a 25% contingency attorney's fee from all sums paid, and requested the approval of the payment of such fee. The parties acknowledged that they were voluntarily accepting the terms of the settlement and agreed that the Stipulation was not the result of undue influence or fraud and that Mrs. Hinkle had been fully advised by her attorney and fully understood her rights and benefits and the consequences of the settlement.

The Commission entered its order denying approval of the Joint Motion. It determined that it could not approve the settlement under section 287.390, RSMo Cum. Supp. 2013. Section 287.390.1 governs compromise settlements under the Workers' Compensation Act. It provides:

Parties to claims hereunder may enter into voluntary agreements in settlement thereof, but no agreement by an employee or his or her dependents to waive his or her rights under this chapter shall be valid, nor shall any agreement of settlement or compromise of any dispute or claim for compensation under this chapter be valid until approved by an administrative law judge or the commission, nor shall an administrative law judge or the commission approve any settlement which is not in accordance with the rights of the parties as given in this chapter. No such agreement shall be valid unless made after seven days from the date of the injury or death. An administrative law judge, or the commission, shall approve a settlement agreement as valid and enforceable as ...

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