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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Connecticut Supreme Court rules in favor of workers

Connecticut's Supreme Court has ruled in favor of workers compensation rights
Claims terms made withdrawal of rights unenforceable
By Joe Cronin

A recent ruling by the Supreme Court of Connecticut represents a victory for workers who were at risk of losing their rights to proceed with future workers’ compensation claims. The case revolved around the fortunes of a worker named Stephen Leonetti who had worked for a company called MacDermid, Inc. for over 28 years.

In 2009 the company released Mr. Leonetti, who had previously filed a workers’ compensation claim back in 2004 for an injury sustained to his lower back.  Though he had been able to continue working, the diagnosis indicated a ten percent permanent partial disability that would likely require surgical intervention at some time in the future.

Worker's compensation claims aren't settled over night

The claim that Leonetti filed in 2004 was never disputed by the company. However, at the time of his discharge from the company he was presented with paperwork related to his severance agreement. The terms of his severance included compensation based upon the number of years of his employment. It also included verbage that released the company from any workers’ compensation claims that had been previously filed.

Mr. Leonetti objected to these terms, but the company refused to alter them and he ultimately signed them in the interest of receiving his severance. However, the issue was raised by the Workers’ Compensation Commission, which held a hearing regarding the enforceability of the terms that Leonetti had been required to agree to. Their review determined that because there was no consideration provided for the release of the claims the withdrawal of rights was not enforceable, and the Workers’ Compensation Review board concurred. MacDermid, Inc. appealed the decision, and the case eventually landed in the Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Upon review, the Supreme Court of Connecticut determined that the contract was not enforceable because it had not been reviewed or received approval from the Workers’ Compensation Commission, and that failing that, no stipulation, whether enforceable at common law or not, could be enforced.

Though this is a victory for Mr. Leonetti, from a practical standpoint it simply means that in the future employers who want to strip employees of their right to future claims need to include terms that reflect consideration of the workers’ compensation claim in order to increase the likelihood that the Commission will approve the terms. Had MacDermid allocated part of Leonetti’s $70,000 plus severance package as payment for the previous injury the Commission would likely have deemed it enforceable.

Lessons learned 

The real takeaway in this situation is the importance of making certain that when you are involved in any kind of legal situation involving workers’ compensation, the best way to ensure that your rights are preserved and the playing field remains level is to seek the advice and counsel of a qualified workers’ compensation attorney who is looking out for your best interests. Your employer has a legal team working for their interest, and you need to make sure that you have the same type of experienced, qualified advocate working on your behalf too.

About the author: Joe Cronin is a personal injury attorney in Philadelphia.

Image license: John Phelan, CC BY-SA 3.0