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That’s some chutzpah, court says

Lawyers enter into stipulations during litigation to same time for the courts and themselves. A stipulation may be less than clear, however, or at least less advantageous than it first appeared.

An employer appealing a workers’ comp award to a laid-off custodial worker decided to test a couple of stipulations used before the Workers’ Compensation Commission, prompting the Court of Appeals to chide — or admire — the appellant for its “chutzpah.”

Linda Jones won comp benefits after she fell off a 10-foot ladder while cleaning windows in a courthouse lobby. She returned to light duty but later was laid off when King William County decided to outsource its janitorial work. A deputy commissioner twice denied Jones’ claim for continued benefits, but the commission entered an award, and the county appealed.

The appeals court panel said the employer was bound by a stipulation as to which body parts Jones had injured when she fell, and was not entitled to argue on appeal that Jones did not offer evidence as to injuries to her neck, back and hands.

“Courts have long encouraged parties to stipulate to undisputed issues,” wrote Judge Wesley G. Russell Jr. in the court’s Dec. 1 first opinion in King William County v. Jones.

For stipulations to achieve their intended purpose of promoting judicial economy, “a party agreeing to a stipulation must be bound by it,” Russell wrote. Having agreed before the commission that Jones did not have to offer evidence on the extent of her injuries, “employer cannot now argue that she failed to offer evidence” of injuries to her neck, back and hand.”

When the employer came back with a challenge to the commission’s finding that Jones had been on light-duty status, Russell grew a little stern, quoting from a transcript to indicate the employer even reminded the deputy commissioner about this very stipulation.

“It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to argue on appeal that the claimant offered no evidence after objecting below to such evidence on the grounds that the issue was uncontested because of a stipulation to which one had agreed,” Russell wrote. And this being a published opinion, or perhaps for those who needed a refresher in Yiddish, Russell dropped a footnote that cited two learned scholars’ definition of “chutzpah” as “when a man kills both his parents and begs the court for mercy because he’s an orphan.”

Based on the stipulation, the panel upheld the commission finding that the claimant was in a light-duty capacity.

The employer nevertheless came away with a win. Ultimately, the panel reversed the award for Jones because she did not prove that her failure to find a job after she was laid off was “causally related to her partial disability.”

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