JANICE MCCULLOUGH v. SWAN ENGRAVING, INC., et al., SC 19480

Compensation Review Board

 

      Workers’ Compensation; Whether Claim for § 31-306 Survivor’s Benefits Timely Filed; Whether Timely Filing of any Workers’ Compensation Claim Satisfies Limitation Period for all Potential Claims.  The plaintiff’s husband, Arthur McCullough, sustained a work-related injury in 2000.  Arthur filed a timely notice of claim with the Workers’ Compensation Commission, and his claim was accepted.  Arthur died as a result of his injury on March 31, 2005.  On April 19, 2006, the plaintiff filed a claim for dependent survivor’s benefits under General Statutes § 31-306.  The trial commissioner approved the claim and ordered the defendants to pay benefits.  The defendants appealed to the Compensation Review Board (board), claiming that the commission lacked jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claim because she failed to file it within one year of Arthur’s death as required by General Statutes § 31-294c.  That statute provides that “[n]o proceedings for compensation . . . shall be maintained unless a written notice of claim for compensation is given within one year from the date of the accident or within three years from the first manifestation of a symptom of the occupational disease, as the case may be, which caused the personal injury, provided, if death has resulted within two years from the date of the accident or first manifestation of a symptom of the occupational disease, a dependent . . . of the deceased employee, may make claim for compensation within the two-year period or within one year from the date of death, whichever is later.”  The plaintiff argued that Fredette v. Connecticut Air National Guard, 283 Conn. 813 (2007), established that the timely filing of any compensable workers’ compensation claim has the effect of satisfying the limitations period for all potential claims under the Workers’ Compensation Act.  The board rejected that argument, finding that the statutory scheme requires a dependent seeking § 31-306 benefits to file a separate claim.  The board did not decide whether the plaintiff’s notice of claim was timely filed, noting that neither the parties nor the trial commissioner addressed the impact of § 31-306b, which requires an employer to notify a dependent of a deceased claimant of potential eligibility for benefits but states that a failure to give notice “shall not excuse a dependent . . . from making a claim for compensation within the time limits prescribed by subsection (a) of section 31-294c unless the dependent . . . demonstrates . . . that he was prejudiced by such failure to comply.”  The board concluded that the only reasonable construction of the statutory scheme is that claims under § 31-306 must be commenced under the time limitations of § 31-294c, subject to the limited exceptions expressly stated in § 31-306b.  Because the record lacked evidentiary findings as to whether the defendants complied with their obligations under § 31-306b and whether any lack of compliance prejudiced the plaintiff, the board remanded the matter to the trial commissioner for a hearing on the issues.  The plaintiff appeals, claiming that the board erred in remanding for further proceedings because Connecticut law establishes that a survivor need not file a separate notice of claim to qualify for § 31-306 benefits and that the timely filing of any claim under the Workers’ Compensation Act satisfies the limitation period for all potential claims.