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A Mississippi Supreme Court unanimously ruled that an injured worker’s settlement with his employer exhausted his administrative remedies and that he could proceed with a bad faith claim against the employer.
Jeremy Thornhill was working for Walker-Hill Environmental when he injured his back on the job in July 2017. After a doctor recommended surgery, Mr. Thornhill filed a workers’ compensation claim. Walker-Hill filed a response admitting that his injury was due to his employment and that he had received proper notice, however, the company insisted that he was not entitled to benefits because he had refused to submit to a drug test after report the injury Thornhill v. Walker-Hill Environmentalpublished Thursday in Jackson.
Walker-Hill subsequently filed an amended response denying that Mr. Thornhill had sustained any work-related injury and denying that he received proper notice. After a hearing, an administrative law judge ordered Mr. Thornhill to undergo an independent medical examination, which resulted in a recommendation for surgery because the work-related injury had substantially aggravated a pre-existing condition and Mr. Thornhill had not yet achieved improvement. max medical.
After receiving the doctor’s report, Walker-Hill agreed to mediate Mr. Thornhill’s claim, after which the parties agreed to settle for $145,000, without Walker-Hill admitting that Mr. Thornhill had been injured. compensable. The Mississippi Workers’ Compensation Commission approved the deal.
Pursuant to the settlement, Mr. Thornhill signed a general release releasing Walker-Hill from all claims arising out of or related to his alleged on-the-job injury. The release further stated that Mr. Thornhill reserved the right to bring a bad faith lawsuit against either party and that the parties agreed that administrative remedies for the lawsuit had been fully exhausted.
Subsequently, Mr. Thornhill filed a bad faith lawsuit against Walker-Hill. The company applied for dismissal, arguing that Mr. Thornhill had not exhausted his administrative remedies.
A trial judge granted the motion, arguing that before suing for a bad faith denial of workers’ compensation benefits, the plaintiff must first obtain a decision from the commission that he or she is entitled to the benefits in question. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the commission’s approval of the compromise settlement exhausted Mr. Thornhill’s administrative remedies and that his bad faith claim may proceed.
The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed, saying its precedent requires only a determination that a plaintiff is “entitled” to compensation before a bad faith action can be brought. “Because Thornhill’s settlement was approved and because he had no further business with the commission, we found that he had exhausted his administrative remedies when his complaint to the commission concluded with the settlement.”
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