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Smith-Adams v. Fairfax County School Board

Court of Appeals of Virginia

April 25, 2017

PAULA SMITH-ADAMS
v.
FAIRFAX COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD

         FROM THE VIRGINIA WORKERS' COMPENSATION COMMISSION

          Peter M. Sweeny (Peter M. Sweeny, P.C., on briefs), for appellant.

          Michael N. Salveson (Charles F. Trowbridge; Littler Mendelson, P.C., on brief), for appellee.

          Present: Judges Alston, O'Brien and Senior Judge Clements Argued at Alexandria, Virginia.

          OPINION

          MARY GRACE O'BRIEN JUDGE.

         Paula Smith-Adams ("claimant") appeals the decision of the Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission ("the Commission"). Claimant asserts that the Commission erred by enforcing a termination agreement and denying her request for benefits and penalties pursuant to a June 2005 award. Finding no error, we affirm the Commission's ruling.

         BACKGROUND

         Claimant, who was employed as a guidance counselor by Fairfax County Public Schools ("the employer"), was injured in a compensable car accident on February 23, 2005. In an award entered June 17, 2005, the employer agreed to pay temporary total disability benefits during incapacity and lifetime medical benefits. On January 9, 2006, claimant applied for a hearing because the employer refused to pay for medical equipment prescribed by claimant's doctor. The hearing was scheduled for June.

         The parties filed two other documents with the Commission on January 9. On the first form, entitled "Supplemental Agreement to Pay Varying Temporary Partial Benefits, " the parties agreed to modify the outstanding award to an award for temporary partial disability benefits, paid at varying rates from May 2005 until August 2005. The second document, labeled "Termination of Wage Loss Award, " memorialized the parties' agreement to terminate the outstanding award effective August 8, 2005 because claimant was able to return to her pre-injury work on August 9, 2005. Both agreements were fully endorsed by the parties and were filed and stamped "received" by the Commission on January 12, 2006.

         Due to the pending claim for the medical equipment, the Commission failed to act on the two agreement forms filed by the parties, although the forms were unrelated to the claim. On June 9, 2006, the parties advised the Commission that they had reached an agreement regarding payment for the medical equipment. They subsequently submitted a stipulated order that was approved and signed by a deputy commissioner on July 7, 2006. However, the Commission took no action on the two agreement forms that were submitted in January.

         On April 3, 2007, the Commission sent the parties notice that there was an outstanding award in the case and "[i]f payments have ceased, an executed Termination of Wage Loss Award or an Employer's Application for Hearing must be filed to end the award." The Commission sent the same notice on October 6, 2008. In November 2011, the Commission advised claimant that she may be entitled to a cost of living adjustment on her award.

         Neither party took any action until October 9, 2013, when claimant sent notice that she "withdraws her January 4, 2006 offers to enter into a Supplemental Agreement to Pay Varying Temporary Partial Benefits and Termination of Wage Loss Award proposed by the employer and insurer on or about November 18, 2005." In response, the employer advised that both parties signed an agreement to pay temporary partial disability payments and then terminate the award. The employer's response also noted that the signed agreements were sent to the Commission in January 2006.

         The Commission scheduled the matter for a hearing. At the hearing, claimant testified that she was injured in an automobile accident on February 23, 2005 and as a result, she was unable to work until May 2, 2005. In May, she returned to work in a reduced capacity and was released to her pre-injury employment in August 2005. Claimant acknowledged that she worked for years after that date, first for Fairfax County Schools, and upon her retirement in 2011, for Loudoun County Schools. Claimant, who has a Bachelor's and two Master's degrees, has been employed as a teacher, school counselor, guidance counselor, curriculum writer, and substitute teacher. She did not report to the employer that she returned to work following her retirement. At the time of the hearing, claimant was again employed by Fairfax County Schools.

         Claimant testified that she missed work due to ongoing medical problems from the accident and related medical appointments from 2006 until the present day. However, she also admitted that she was injured in two other accidents, in October 2005 and May 2008. She acknowledged that she signed the two agreements that were filed in January of 2006, providing for payment of partial benefits and subsequently terminating the wage loss award, and that her signature indicated that she "agreed with everything" on the documents. She also admitted that she understood that signing the agreements meant that her compensation benefits would be terminated and, in fact, after she returned to work on August 9, 2005, she never claimed additional wage loss benefits until she brought the action in October 2013.

         Following the hearing, the deputy commissioner held that the award of temporary total disability benefits was terminated effective May 1, 2005, and entered an award for temporary partial disability benefits from May 2, 2005 through August 8, 2005, in accordance with the agreement forms submitted by the parties in January 2006. The deputy commissioner found that the parties "intended to abide by the fully-signed agreement forms . . . seeking termination of the outstanding award upon the claimant's return to work." On review, the full Commission agreed and held that "the interests of justice are served by enforcing the [a]greements into which the parties voluntarily entered." This appeal followed.

         ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR

         I. The Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission erred in concluding that its refusal to approve proposed agreement forms in 2006 was a "mistake" warranting the ...


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