Appealed from the Office of Workers' Compensation,
District 1-E Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana Trial Court No.
18-03410 Brenza Irving Jones Workers' Compensation Judge.
& STREET By: C. Daniel Street Counsel for Appellant
TAYLOR, WELLONS, POLITZ, & DUHE, APLC By: B. Scott Cowart
Heidel A. Schneider Counsel for Appellees
MOORE, STEPHENS, and THOMPSON, JJ.
James Walter, appeals from a judgment by the workers'
compensation judge, denying his motion to enforce a judgment
against defendants, PCP International, Inc., and its insurer,
Amtrust North America. For the following reasons, we vacate
the judgment of the workers' compensation judge and
remand the matter for further proceedings in accordance with
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
workers' compensation lawsuit stems from the injury of
James Walter sustained on February 18, 2016, while working at
PCP International, Inc. ("PCP"), in West Monroe,
Louisiana. Walter was paid workers' compensation
indemnity and medical benefits until May 8, 2018, when the
payments were terminated by PCP due to Walter's failure
to attend a medical appointment. In response to the
termination of benefits, Walter filed a disputed claim for
compensation and a motion to lift the suspension of benefits,
seeking indemnity to be reinstated. Following a hearing, the
workers' compensation judge ("WCJ") granted
Walter's motion and reinstated benefits retroactive to
the date of termination, and awarded Walter a penalty in the
amount of $1, 000 and $1, 500 in attorney fees. Judgment to
that effect was signed on August 8 (the "August
Judgment"), and notice of signing of interlocutory
judgment was subsequently issued by the Office of
September 28, the parties participated in a mediation to
address the only remaining issue in the case at that
time-determination of Walter's average weekly wage. The
mediation resulted in a written agreement ("the
Agreement") signed by Walter, his counsel, and counsel
for PCP and its insurer, Amtrust North America
("Amtrust"). In the Agreement, Walter's average
weekly wage was set and PCP agreed to pay the previously
ordered indemnity benefits, penalty, and attorney fees, as
well as interest. The Agreement further provided the parties
would file a motion to dismiss Walter's disputed claim
for compensation upon receipt of the payment of the prior
judgment. However, PCP failed to reinstate benefits or pay
the amount awarded in the August Judgment.
subsequently filed a motion for enforcement of judgment
seeking to have PCP pay the previous judgment along with the
additional 24% penalty and attorney fees that workers'
compensation law provides when final judgments are not paid
within 30 days of becoming due. A hearing on Walter's
motion was held, after which the WCJ denied the motion,
finding the August Judgment was interlocutory and neither it
nor the Agreement was a final nonappealable judgment.
Judgment denying Walter's motion for enforcement of
judgment was signed on December 27 (the "December
Judgment"). On that same date, the WCJ executed an
additional written judgment that reflected the terms of both
the August Judgment and the Agreement. This judgment was
thereafter deemed a final judgment per notice of signing of
final judgment issued by the Office of Workers'
Compensation. The back-due benefits owed to Walter have since
been paid, and benefits have been reinstated. However, Walter
seeks the additional 24% penalty and attorney fees and has
timely appealed the WCJ's December Judgment denying his
motion for enforcement of judgment.
appeal Walter asserts in a single, multipart assignment of
error that the WCJ erred: (1) in ruling the August Judgment
was interlocutory; (2) in ruling the mediation agreement does
not constitute a judgment within the meaning of La. R.S.
23:1201(G); and, (3) in refusing to award the statutory
penalty of 24% of the amount of the judgment plus attorney
fees for PCP's failure to pay.
of penalties and attorney fees in workers' compensation
cases are essentially penal in nature and are imposed to
deter indifference and undesirable conduct by employers and
their insurers toward injured workers. While the benefits
conferred by the Workers' Compensation Act are to be
liberally construed, penal statutes are to be strictly
construed. Louisiana R.S. 23:1201(G) is a penal ...