TOWN OF SOUTHBURY v. PATRICIA GONYEA et al., SC 18524
Judicial District of Waterbury
Workers' Compensation; General Statutes § 31-293 (a); Whether Trial Court Properly Found There was no Genuine Issue of Material Fact that Town Assented to Employee's Compromise of his Claim Against Defendants. The plaintiff paid workers' compensation benefits to its employee who had sustained injuries in a collision with a vehicle driven by Patricia Gonyea and owned by Joseph Gonyea (defendants). Pursuant to General Statutes § 31-293 (a), which governs the liability of third persons to employers and employees under the Workers' Compensation Act, the plaintiff had a lien on any judgment or settlement received by the employee from a third party. Subsequently, the employee negotiated a settlement of his claim with the defendants in the amount of $100,000, the limits of their insurance policy. Thereafter, after deducting attorney's fees and costs, the employee paid the remainder of the settlement proceeds to the plaintiff in repayment of a portion of its lien. Subsequently, the plaintiff commenced this action against the defendants, seeking to recover additional workers' compensation benefits it paid or would become obligated to pay to or on behalf of its employee. The defendants moved for summary judgment, claiming that the plaintiff had assented to its employee's settlement and was therefore bound by it pursuant to the portion of § 31-293 (a) that provides: "No compromise with the person [having a legal liability to pay damages for the injury] by either the employer or the employee shall be binding upon or affect the rights of the other, unless assented to by him." Attached to the defendants' motion were letters from the plaintiff's counsel, which, they claimed, showed that the plaintiff had agreed to the settlement. The plaintiff objected to the motion, arguing that no assent to the settlement had been given. The plaintiff contended that the "assent" in § 31-293 is an agreement to waive future legal rights to bring an independent legal action. It argued that it did not waive its right to recover on the lien and, further, that waiver is an issue of fact that cannot be resolved by way of a motion for summary judgment. The court granted the motion for summary judgment, finding there to be no issue of fact that the plaintiff assented to the settlement. In doing so, the court rejected the plaintiff's interpretation of the statute. The plaintiff now appeals.