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Duni v. UTC/Pratt & Whitney Aircraft

CASE NO. 2052 CRB-1-94-5

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

JUNE 12, 1995

BEATRICE DUNI

CLAIMANT-APPELLANT

CROSS-APPELLEE

v.

UTC/PRATT & WHITNEY AIRCRAFT

EMPLOYER

and

LIBERTY MUTUAL INS. CO.

INSURER

RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES

CROSS-APPELLANTS

and

SECOND INJURY FUND

RESPONDENT-APPELLEE

CROSS-APPELLANT

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Richard L. Gross, Esq., Cantor, Floman, Russell & Gross, P.C., 378 Boston Post Road, P. O. Drawer 966, Orange, CT 06477.

The respondent employer and insurer were represented by Nancy S. Rosenbaum, Esq., 655 Winding Brook Drive, Glastonbury, CT 06033.

The Second Injury Fund was represented by Michael J. Belzer, Esq., Assistant Attorney General, 55 Elm St., P. O. Box 120, Hartford, CT 06141-0120.

These Petitions for Review from the May 12, 1994 Memorandum on Motion to Preclude and Motion to Dismiss and the June 3, 1994 denial of the Second Injury Fund’s Motion to Reargue and Reopen Decision of the Commissioner acting for the First District were heard November 18, 1994 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman Jesse M. Frankl and Commissioners Angelo L. dos Santos and Nancy A. Brouillet.

OPINION

JESSE M. FRANKL, CHAIRMAN. Each of the parties has petitioned for review from a decision by the First District Commissioner in this case. The claimant argues that the commissioner should have granted her Motion to Preclude, the respondent employer and insurer (respondents) argue that the commissioner should have granted their Motion to Dismiss, and the respondent Second Injury Fund (Fund) argues that the commissioner should have granted its Motion to Reargue and Reopen and contests the grounds on which the commissioner denied the respondents’ Motion to Dismiss. We reverse the decision of the trial commissioner on the Motion to Dismiss.

The claimant, Beatrice Duni, is the surviving spouse of William Duni, who died on December 14, 1991. William Duni was employed by the respondent Pratt & Whitney from 1941 until December 1982. In 1984, he made a written claim for workers’ compensation, specifically contending that exposure to various substances had caused injury to his lungs, heart, eyes, nose, and other body parts. This claim was settled by a Stipulation for Full and Final Settlement dated August 7, 1986 and approved August 15, 1986. The settlement provided in part:

The payment of SEVENTY-TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS ($72,000) of which the respondent employer and insurer shall pay $36,000 and the respondent Second Injury and Compensation Assurance Fund shall pay $36,000, shall be made and accepted as a full and final settlement for all compensation including specific for said injuries and for all results upon the claimant past, present and future and for all claims for medical, surgical, hospital and incidental expenses to the end that the payment of such sum shall constitute a complete satisfaction of all claims due or to become due at any time in favor of anybody on account of the claimed injuries or on account of any condition in any way resulting out of the said injuries.

This agreement was signed by William Duni, a representative of the respondents, and a representative of the Fund. The claimant was not made a party to that agreement.1

The claimant served notice of claim for workers’ compensation benefits on the Workers’ Compensation Commission and on the employer by certified mail on or about February 12, 1992. In the notice, she alleged that her late husband’s death was caused by the occupational disease that was the subject of his 1984 workers’ compensation claim, and claimed entitlement to compensation under § 31-306 C.G.S. The respondents sent by certified mail a Form 43 “Notice to Compensation Commissioner and Employee of Intention to Contest Liability to Pay Compensation” to both the First District Commissioner and the deceased at his last known address, which was also the claimant’s address. Although this notice was timely filed and was in fact received by the claimant, it was not addressed to the claimant in accordance with § 31-297(b). The claimant thus filed a Motion to Preclude, which the commissioner denied. The claimant has appealed from that decision.

The commissioner also ruled on a Motion to Dismiss filed by the respondents. He decided that the claim was timely filed in accordance with § 31-294c, and that it was not precluded by virtue of the stipulation among William Duni, the respondents and the Fund entered into in 1986. The respondents appealed from that decision. The Fund later appealed from the commissioner’s refusal to grant its Motion to Reargue and Reopen the decision on the Motion to Dismiss.

We first address the claimant’s assertion that the commissioner should have granted the Motion to Preclude because the respondents’ Form 43 was addressed to the decedent employee rather than the claimant surviving spouse. The circumstances surrounding this claim of error are virtually identical to those in Walter v. State of Connecticut, 1694 CRB-2-93-4 (decided June 2, 1995), where we held that the proper standard of review was to “determine whether the state’s notice to contest liability substantially complied with § 31-297(b) and gave the claimants sufficient notice of the state’s reasons for denying compensability.” Id. Here, as in Walter, the employer used the Form 43 promulgated by the Workers’ Compensation Commission and followed the directions provided on the form. Notice went to the correct address, albeit to the name of the wrong party, and there is no dispute that the claimant actually received the notice of intent to contest liability. As no prejudice has been shown to the claimant by the defect, we see no reason to distinguish this case from Walter. See also Solonche v. State of Connecticut, 1987 CRB-5-94-3 (decided June 9, 1995). Therefore, we affirm the commissioner’s denial of the claimant’s Motion to Preclude.

We next reach the central issue of the respondents’ and the Fund’s appeals: the effect of the stipulation on the claimant’s § 31-306 claim for dependent death benefits. We note as a prelude that the commissioner correctly determined that the claimant filed a timely notice of claim. Pursuant to § 31-294c(a), a claimant is entitled to file written notice of a claim for compensation within one year from the date of an accident, three years from the date of first manifestation of a symptom of occupational disease, two years from the date of the accident or first manifestation of a disease symptom in the event that death has resulted, or one year from the date of death, whichever is later. Contrary to the respondents’ assertions, this Board decided in Capen v. Electric Boat Division, 11 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 326, 328-29, 1394 CRB-2-92-3 (Dec. 30, 1993), aff’d., 38 Conn. App. 73 (1995), that it would not make sense to read § 31-294c as requiring a claimant to have filed a claim during a period prior to the death of a decedent employee. Rather, the statute allows for the filing of a claim within one year of an employee’s death in all cases. As the claimant filed her claim within two months after her husband died, her claim was timely under § 31-294c.

The fact that the claim was timely filed, however, in no way inhibits the potential effect of the stipulation on the § 31-306 claim. “A stipulation is a compromise and release type of settlement similar to settlements in civil personal injury cases where a claim is settled with a lump sum payment accompanied by a release of the adverse party from further liability.” Muldoon v. Homestead Insulation Co., 213 Conn. 469, 479-80 (1994) (citation omitted). “Although the [Workers’ Compensation Act] does not explicitly provide for this type of settlement, we have consistently upheld the ability to compromise a compensation claim as inherent in the power to make a voluntary agreement regarding compensation.” Id., 480, citing Sugrue v. Champion, 128 Conn. 574, 578-79 (1942).

The stipulation in this case purports to be a full and final settlement of all claims for compensation arising out of the allegedly work-related injuries to William Duni’s lungs, heart, eyes, nose and other parts of the body specified in the stipulation. It provides that “the payment of such sum shall constitute a complete satisfaction of all claims due or to become due at any time in favor of anybody on account of the claimed injuries or on account of any condition in any way resulting out of the said injuries.” (Emphasis added.) The stipulation also provides that William Duni was aware at the time of its signing that the settlement intended to deal with “any and all conditions, known or unknown, which exist as of the date hereof, and any changes of conditions which may arise in the future on account of said alleged accident.”

In Muldoon, supra, our Supreme Court held that a stipulation similar to the one quoted above did not preclude a workers’ compensation claim where the claimant was further exposed to asbestos after a settlement was reached, leading to a substantial increase in pulmonary disability. “Except in very rare instances the settlement and release of a claim does not cover claims based on events that have not yet occurred.” Id., 481. “The usual general release, then, is not ordinarily construed to include in its coverage claims based upon occurrences which have their beginning after the instrument is executed.” Id. The instant case differs from Muldoon in that all of William Duni’s workplace exposure occurred before the stipulation was reached. Therefore, there is no dispute that the decedent’s death, if indeed compensable, arose out of the same injuries contemplated in the stipulation.

The claimant argues that she was not a party to the stipulation, and thus cannot be bound by it. She also argues that a dependent’s right to benefits under § 31-306 is statutorily created and independent of the employee’s right to compensation. We agree that a § 31-306 claim, unlike a common-law claim of loss of consortium, can be proven by satisfying three statutory criteria: the employee’s death, the claimant’s dependence, and the causal connection between the compensable injury and the employee’s death. Beiderzycki v. Farrel Foundry & Machine Co., 103 Conn. 701, 705 (1926).

Nevertheless, the § 31-306 claim of a putative dependent emanates from the death of the decedent employee, and arises out of the same compensable injury. Ash v. New Milford, 207 Conn. 665, 673 (1988); Biederzycki, supra, 704. Even though the classes of compensation awarded to an employee and to his dependents may be independent of each other, and a dependent’s claim may vest later than that of an employee; Sellew v. Northeast Utilities, 12 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 135, 138, 1422 CRB-8-92-5 (April 7, 1994); it is still foreseeable at the time of settlement that an employee’s injuries may result in his death. Therefore, just as a consortium action may be barred when a suit brought by the injured spouse has been terminated by settlement or by an adverse judgment on the merits; Hopson v. St. Mary’s Hospital, 176 Conn. 485, 494 (1979); we hold that a § 31-306 claim may be terminated by settlement as well. Such a result would not contravene the public policy discussed in Muldoon, supra, 481-83, as legal protection for employees would not be removed for prospective compensable injuries. At the same time, employers would be assured of the finality of settlements with respect to prior injuries suffered.

Here, the language of the agreement stated that claims due at any time in favor of anybody on account of a condition resulting from the claimed injuries were satisfied. We disagree with the commissioner’s interpretation of “anybody” as meaning a representative of the decedent’s estate who would pursue a claim on behalf of the decedent. “Anybody” is a far more general term that simply refers to any person, and we will not favor a strained interpretation of that term over a straightforward one. We think it evident that the parties to the agreement contemplated the release of all claims that might result from the claimant’s previous injuries, including those arising in favor of a third party.

Although it would have been prudent for both the claimant and the respondents to make the claimant’s wife a party to the stipulation, at the time of the settlement, her § 31-306 claim had not yet accrued. Sellew, supra. All existing rights to compensation for William Duni’s compensable injuries were vested in William Duni at the time he signed the stipulation. No claim then existed that was not personal to him. Therefore, William Duni had the authority at the time the settlement was reached to release the respondents from liability for future claims arising out of his allegedly compensable injuries, including the claims of his dependents under § 31-306. Without a showing of fraud or deceit by the parties to the stipulation surrounding the claimant’s right to a potential § 31-306 claim, equity does not require that we ignore the express terms of the stipulation. Thus, we hold that the stipulation precludes the claimant from seeking dependent death benefits under § 31-306.

The trial commissioner’s decision is affirmed in part, and reversed in part. The claimant’s claim is hereby dismissed.

Commissioners Angelo L. dos Santos and Nancy A. Brouillet concur.

1 Notably, the claimant and the decedent have been represented by the same counsel. BACK TO TEXT

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