JANICE THOMAS v. STATE OF CONNECTICUT DEPARTMENT OF DEVELOPMENTAL SERVICES et al., SC 18458

Compensation Review Board

 

Workers' Compensation; Third Party Recovery; General Statutes 31-293 (a); Whether Employer was Entitled to a Lien Against Entire Amount of Proceeds Received by Claimant who Settled Third Party Action or Only the Amount it Claimed in Written Notice Prior to Settlement. The claimant sustained compensable injuries after slipping and falling on ice outside her employer's workplace. Subsequently, the claimant asserted a claim for damages against a third party pursuant to General Statutes 31-293 (a). The respondent employer wrote a letter (lien letter) to the claimant indicating that it was claiming a lien against proceeds recovered in the third party tort case and documenting $2,523.43 in benefits that it had paid on the claimant's behalf. After settling with the tortfeasor, the claimant reimbursed the respondent $2,523.43, netting $24,713.37 from the third party recovery. The respondent claimed that it was entitled to a credit against unknown future workers' compensation benefits in the entire amount of the net proceeds recovered by the claimant. The claimant, however, contended that the amount of the lien was limited to the amount specified in the lien letter. Following the trial commissioner's ruling in favor of the claimant on this issue, the respondent appealed to the compensation review board, which reversed the decision of the commissioner. The board, in arriving at its decision, noted that Public Acts 1993, No. 93-227, 7, which amended 31-293 (a), conferred on employers the right to a lien on third party recoveries, provided that written notice is afforded to the claimant. The 1993 amendment, it observed, was silent as to the amount of the recovery to be protected by the lien and was merely engrafted onto the existing statute. The board stated that the existing statute permitted the employer to pursue a claim against a third party tortfeasor by intervening in an employee's action or by initiating its own direct action. In addition, it noted that the statute specifically defined an employer's claim as consisting of the amounts the employer has already paid to the claimant and a credit for future benefits to which it might be liable on account of the injury. Reading the existing statute and the amendment together, the board concluded that the respondent was entitled to a lien against the entire amount of the proceeds recovered by the claimant in her third party action. The claimant now appeals.