Claim for $10 million in benefits and damages snuffed by earlier settlement

Employee agreed to release existing claims in exchange for $300,000; employee claimed he didn't understand agreement

A Northwest Territories man is not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits for an injury for which he already reached a settlement, the Northwest Territories Supreme Court has ruled.

Ivan Valic was a carpenter on various construction projects in the Northwest Territories. From 1987 to 1997, Valic made five separate claims for workers’ compensation benefits for injuries he suffered on the job. Some of the claims were for “chronic pain syndrome,” which the Workers’ Compensation Board of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut (WCB) rejected. Valic appealed the rejections and the NWT Supreme Court found the WCB infringed on the charter rights of chronic pain sufferers by rejecting claims for chronic pain.

Following the court’s decision, Valic and the WCB went to mediation and reached a settlement on Dec. 3, 2006. Under the agreement, Valic received $300,000 as compensation for all the injuries he had suffered and made claims for up to that point and he released all claims and actions against the WCB on or before the date of the agreement. Valic was also awarded more than $36,000 by an arbitrator to cover his legal expenses. An appeal Valic had before the WCB’s appeal tribunal related to one of his claims was dismissed because the settlement covered the claim.

However, Valic went to the Supreme Court seeking a nullification of the settlement, arguing he wasn’t given a translator – Valic originally immigrated from Croatia in 1976 – he was pressured into making the agreement, he wasn’t given the chance to adequately consult legal counsel and he was unable to properly understand the agreement because he was on medication at the time. He also claimed he was disabled and could no longer work so he was entitled to benefits from his first injury in 1987 along with pecuniary damages totalling $10 million.

The court had difficulty with Valic’s assertions as he didn’t provide any evidence to support them. He didn’t provide any proof he was pressured, he had never complained about not understanding the mediation discussions at any point during the process and didn’t request a translator. He also didn’t show any indications of being impaired by medication. In fact, the court found Valic continued with arbitration over his expenses following the agreement, which showed he likely knew exactly what was happening.

“I have no doubt (Valic) was frustrated at the length of time it took to resolve his claims. But frustration is not the same as pressure,” said the court.

The court found the agreement was intended to bring a final resolution to the matter of Valic’s multiple claims and legal actions against the WCB. His action seeking its nullification, said the court, was an attempt to “relitigate issues that have been settled by a valid agreement.” The court dismissed Valic’s action in a summary judgment, finding no reason to pursue the action.

“It became clear, during his oral submissions, that (Valic) thinks that what he should be getting is a lifetime pension in addition to the lump sum payment of $300,000 plus reimbursement of his out-of-pocket expenses,” said the court. See Valic v. Northwest Territories & Nunavut (Workers’ Compensation Board), 2010 CarswellNWT 103 (N.W.T. S.C.).

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