STEPHEN J. LEONETTI v. MACDERMID INCORPORATED et al., SC 19085
Compensation Review Board
Workers’ Compensation; Whether the Compensation Review Board Properly Determined that a Waiver of the Plaintiff’s Workers’ Compensation Claim was Unenforceable Because it was not Supported by Consideration and Because it had not been Approved by the Workers’ Compensation Commission. The plaintiff injured his back while he was working for MacDermid Incorporated (MacDermid). Thereafter, MacDermid terminated the plaintiff’s employment and proposed a termination agreement in which it offered to pay him $70,228.51 in exchange for, among other things, his promise to release it from any workers’ compensation claim that he might have against it. The plaintiff subsequently requested that the workers’ compensation commission convene a hearing to address the propriety of MacDermid’s attempt to obtain a waiver of his workers’ compensation claim. Prior to the hearing, the plaintiff received a letter from MacDermid, which stated that if he did not sign the termination agreement, the offer to pay him $70,228.51 would be withdrawn. In response, the plaintiff decided to sign the agreement and accept the severance payment, but he continued to challenge the validity of the waiver provision. After the workers’ compensation hearing, the trial commissioner determined that the waiver of the plaintiff’s workers’ compensation rights was unenforceable because it was not supported by adequate consideration and because it had not been approved by the workers’ compensation commission. The workers’ compensation review board affirmed the trial commissioner’s decision, determining that the agreement did not represent an enforceable release of the plaintiff’s workers’ compensation claim. It reasoned that, pursuant to General Statutes § 31-296, a stipulation regarding the release of a workers’ compensation claim is not enforceable unless it is approved by a trial commissioner who must ensure that the claimant fully understands the implications of the stipulation. With regard to the issue of consideration, the board affirmed the trial commissioner’s decision, concluding that the plaintiff’s uncontroverted testimony established that the payment of $70,228.51 was based on the number of years that he had worked for MacDermid, not on the value of his workers’ compensation claim. The board also rejected MacDermid’s claim that the trial commissioner effectively permitted the plaintiff to perpetrate a fraud upon MacDermid by allowing him to retain the severance payment while circumventing the release provision. It reasoned that MacDermid’s claim of fraud was beyond its jurisdiction and must be resolved in another forum. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the board’s conclusions were proper.