MAURA DONAHUE v. VERIDIEM, INC., et al., SC 18237
Compensation Review Board
Workers' Compensation; Whether Commissioner Improperly Refused to Award Plaintiff Benefits After Precluding Defendant from Contesting Liability Pursuant to General Statutes § 31-294c; Impact of Harpaz v. Laidlaw Transit, Inc., 286 Conn. 102 (2008), on Present Appeal. The plaintiff filed a claim with the workers' compensation commissioner, alleging that she sustained a back injury when she fell at work. The plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to preclude the defendant employer from raising defenses to her claim on the ground that the defendant failed to contest liability within the time limit set forth in General Statutes § 31-294c. The commissioner granted the motion to preclude. The commissioner then considered the medical evidence presented by the plaintiff and concluded that her testimony linking the extent of her back disability to the fall was not credible. As a result, the commissioner determined that the plaintiff's fall was compensable but denied her claim for benefits. The plaintiff appealed to the compensation review board, which affirmed the commissioner's decision. In doing so, the board noted that there is a clear distinction between the right to contest liability for an injury and the right to contest the extent of disability attributable to such an injury. The board further noted that § 31-294c specifically permits a defendant to challenge the extent of the disability within one year from the receipt of written notice of the claim and that the burden was on the plaintiff to establish the extent of her disability that is linked to her compensable injury. The plaintiff challenges the board's decision in this appeal before the Supreme Court. Also in this appeal, the parties address the impact on the appeal of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Harpaz v. Laidlaw Transit, Inc., 286 Conn. 102 (2008). In Harpaz, the court held that where an employer does not timely contest liability under § 31-294c, the employer is barred from contesting both compensability and the extent of the employee's disability but that the plaintiff retains the responsibility of proving the extent of the disability attributable to the compensable injury.