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Rosales v. Icicle Seafoods, Inc.

Supreme Court of Alaska

September 6, 2013

Hugo ROSALES, Appellant,
v.
ICICLE SEAFOODS, INC. and Seabright Insurance Co., Appellees.

Rehearing Denied Nov. 21, 2013.

Page 581

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 582

Hugo Rosales, pro se, Somerton, Arizona, Appellant.

Lanning Trueb and Richard Nielson, Nielsen Shields, PLLC, Seattle, Washington, for Appellees.

Before: FABE, Chief Justice, WINFREE, STOWERS, MAASSEN, and BOLGER, Justices.

OPINION

BOLGER, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

After suffering a work-related injury, a worker on a fish-processing vessel filed both a workers' compensation claim and a maritime lawsuit; he was represented by counsel in both proceedings. The worker and his employer entered into a global settlement of both cases. The Alaska Workers' Compensation Board initially rejected the settlement. The employee later tried to withdraw from the settlement but changed his mind and, at a hearing, testified that he thought the settlement was in his best interests. The Board approved the settlement after this hearing. Several months later, the employee asked the Board to set the agreement aside. The Board denied the request, and the Alaska Workers' Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed the Board's decision. Because we find no error in the Commission's decision, we affirm it.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

In May 2007, shortly after Hugo Rosales began working for Icicle Seafoods on a fish-processing vessel in Bristol Bay, a tray of frozen fish weighing about 54 pounds fell from a cart he was pushing and hit him on the back of the head. Rosales suffered a cut on his head and reported losing consciousness. He received medical treatment on the ship and worked a few more days. He was seen at the Dillingham hospital on May 16. The doctor there diagnosed whiplash and a history of concussion, and limited Rosales to light duty work for several days. Rather than go back to the vessel Rosales returned to his home in Arizona for another medical opinion. He later filed a report of injury with the Alaska Workers' Compensation Board.

Upon his return to Arizona, Rosales sought medical care for persistent headaches as well as neck pain. The examining physician diagnosed a head injury; CT scans of Rosales's head and neck were mostly normal, but the neck scan showed degenerative disk disease at C4-C5. Rosales also reported foot pain in June 2007. A number of months after the accident, Rosales began to report lower back pain, which he stated began at the time of the accident.

Rosales, appearing pro se, filed a written workers' compensation claim in late October 2007, after Icicle filed a controversion of some benefits. He made claims for medical and transportation costs, penalty and interest, and unfair or frivolous controversion. In response Icicle admitted a short period of temporary total disability (TTD) and some medical costs.

An attorney entered an appearance before the Board on behalf of Rosales in July 2008. The attorney also filed a maritime case against Icicle in King County Superior Court in Washington. Shortly before trial was scheduled to begin in the maritime litigation, the parties attended a mediation and agreed to settle all of Rosales's claims in a global settlement agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, Icicle paid Rosales $200,000 to settle all of his claims; of that amount, he received about $113,000, with the rest going to attorney's fees and costs. The vast majority of the settlement, including the attorney's fees, was related to the maritime case: according to the terms of the Board settlement,

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Icicle paid Rosales $195,000 when the documents were executed and was to pay him an additional $5,000 after the Board approved the settlement. As part of the workers' compensation settlement, Rosales waived both future medical benefits and reemployment benefits.

Not long after the settlement was submitted to the Board, and before it was approved, Rosales, acting pro se, filed a written workers' compensation claim seeking benefits. The claim was accompanied by a letter saying new evidence showed he was not medically stable. Rosales's attorney later withdrew this claim.

After reviewing the settlement, the Board rejected it because the Board could not determine whether it was in Rosales's best interests. In particular, the Board pointed out that Rosales was waiving medical benefits even though he appeared to have " work-related foot problems." The Board requested a copy of the maritime settlement and invited the parties to schedule a hearing about the workers' compensation settlement. In early January 2010, Rosales's attorney submitted a copy of the release of claims from the maritime case.

The first board hearing on the settlement took place on February 2, 2010. When asked about medical care, Rosales testified that he saw the doctor once a month for follow-up and to get prescriptions. In the course of the hearing, Rosales asked for more time to consider the settlement; the Board granted this request. Following the hearing, Icicle sent a letter to Rosales's attorney claiming that Rosales was in breach of the agreement because he was not cooperating in getting Board approval. Icicle requested return of the $195,000 it had already paid or " an affirmative statement from Mr. Rosales that he does want the Board to approve the settlement." Icicle told the attorney that if it did not receive either the statement or the money by February 7, it would " take legal steps to protect its interest in the $195,000 paid to date."

The Board held a second hearing on the settlement on February 23, 2010. At this hearing Rosales testified that he wanted the Board to approve the settlement; that he understood he would not receive any more workers' compensation benefits, including future medical benefits; and that he understood it was " virtually impossible" to set the agreement aside. He further testified that he thought the settlement was in his best interests because he was getting enough money to pay for his medical treatment and retraining. The Board found the settlement was in Rosales's best interests and approved it.

On October 4, 2010, Rosales asked the Board to modify the settlement. He sought a variety of benefits including permanent partial impairment (PPI) and temporary total disability (TTD). To support the modification request, Rosales alleged that the Board had incomplete medical information because not all of his medical records had been submitted to the Board.[1] Additional reasons he gave for modifying the settlement were that (1) he had not been evaluated for PPI; (2) the Board had not approved the attorney's fees paid to his attorney; (3) the employer had failed to pay him a penalty or interest for the TTD it paid late; and (4) ...


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