Pat Tate, as administrator of the estate of Michael C. Traffanstedt, deceased
Liberty Mutual Insurance Company and Dover Corporation d/b/a Heil Corporation
from DeKalb Circuit Court. (CV-13-900322).
Judge., Judge. Thompson, P.J., and Pittman, Moore, and
Donaldson, JJ., concur.
December 2006, Michael C. Traffanstedt entered into an
agreement to settle a workers' compensation claim against
his employer, Dover Corporation d/b/a Heil Corporation
(" Heil" ) (" the 2006 settlement
agreement" ). The 2006 settlement agreement provided
that future medical benefits would be left open. In 2011,
Traffanstedt and Heil entered into a settlement agreement as
to his future medical benefits (" the 2011 settlement
agreement" ), which was submitted to the trial court for
approval, as required by Ala. Code 1975, § 25-5-56, a
part of the Alabama Workers' Compensation Act (" the
Act" ), Ala. Code 1975, § 25-5-1 et seq. The trial
court did not approve the 2011 settlement agreement.
again sought approval of a settlement agreement as to his
future medical benefits in early 2013 (" the 2013
settlement agreement" ). A hearing before the trial
court for its approval of the 2013 settlement agreement had
been set for February 6, 2013. Traffanstedt died on February
5, 2013, for reasons unrelated to his work-related injury.
Thus, the hearing did not take place.
Mutual Insurance Company (" Liberty Mutual" ), the
workers' compensation insurance carrier for Heil, had
issued a check for $70,000 in satisfaction of the 2013
settlement agreement. The check provided that it could not be
negotiated before court approval of the 2013 settlement
agreement. After Traffanstedt's death, Liberty Mutual
refused to honor the check. Thus, on October 16, 2013, the
administrator of Traffanstedt's estate, Pat Tate, sued
Heil and Liberty Mutual, seeking a judgment declaring that
Liberty Mutual and Heil were bound by the 2013 settlement
agreement and alleging breach of contract.
moved for a summary judgment, and Liberty Mutual filed a
cross-motion for a summary judgment; Heil adopted Liberty
Mutual's arguments at the summary-judgment hearing.
Liberty Mutual and Heil argued that Tate's claims were
barred by the exclusivity provisions of the Act, see Ala.
Code 1975, § § 25-5-52 and 25-5-53, and that they
were not bound by the 2013 settlement agreement because that
settlement agreement was not made valid by court approval
before Traffanstedt's death. After the trial court
considered the arguments of the parties, it entered a summary
judgment in favor of Liberty Mutual and Heil. Tate appealed
to our supreme court, which transferred the appeal to this
court because, it determined,
the appeal fell within this court's subject-matter
jurisdiction. See Ala. Code 1975, § 12-3-10.
appeal, Tate argues that the trial court erred in concluding
both that the action was barred by the exclusivity provisions
of the Act and that the 2013 settlement agreement was not
valid because it had not yet been approved by the trial
court. Tate contends that a settlement agreement in a
workers' compensation action is treated like any other
contract, see Jones v. Ruth, 31 So.3d 115, 118
(Ala.Civ.App. 2009) (construing a settlement agreement "
like any other contract" to determine what claims the
agreement released); thus, he contends, the 2013 settlement
agreement was binding on the parties even though it had not
yet been approved by the trial court when Traffanstedt died.
To support his contention that the trial court's approval
of the settlement before Traffanstedt's death was not
necessary to make the settlement valid, Tate chiefly relies
on Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. v. Wood, 121
So.3d 982 (Ala. 2013), in which our supreme court determined
that two insurers could not unilaterally withdraw from a
settlement of a minor's tort claims after the minor's
death despite the fact that the trial court had yet to
approve the settlement.
Mutual and Heil argue that the trial court correctly
determined that the 2013 settlement agreement was not
enforceable. They contend that the Act does not permit
recovery of medical benefits by a deceased employee's
estate and that the exclusivity provisions of the Act prevent
Tate from seeking to enforce the 2013 settlement agreement
outside the provisions of the Act. Liberty Mutual and Heil
also contend that a workers' compensation settlement
agreement is not treated like other settlement agreements.
Sager v. Royce Kershaw Co., 359 So.2d 398, 400
(Ala.Civ.App. 1978) (" Section 25-5-56 clearly removed
settlement of work[ers'] compensation claims from the
ambit of principles applicable to the settlement and release
of ordinary personal injury claims." ).
review a summary judgment de novo; we apply the same standard
as was applied in the trial court. A motion for a summary
judgment is to be granted when no genuine issue of material
fact exists and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as
a matter of law. Rule 56(c)(3), Ala. R. Civ. P. A party
moving for a summary judgment must make a prima facie showing
" that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact
and that [it] is entitled to a judgment as a matter of
law." Rule 56(c)(3); see Lee v. City of
Gadsden, 592 So.2d 1036, 1038 (Ala. 1992). If the movant
meets this burden, " the burden then shifts to the
nonmovant to rebut the movant's prima facie showing by
'substantial evidence.'" Lee, 592 So.2d
at 1038. " [S]ubstantial evidence is evidence of such
weight and quality that fair-minded persons in the exercise
of impartial judgment can reasonably infer the existence of
the fact sought to be proved." West v. Founders Life
Assurance Co. of Florida, 547 So.2d 870, 871 (Ala.
1989); see Ala. Code 1975, § 12-21-12(d).
statutory provisions relevant to our discussion are all a
part of the Act. Sections 25-5-52 and 25-5-53, commonly
referred to as the exclusivity provisions of the Act,
prohibit any action seeking workers' compensation