New Amendments Make Minor Changes (Family and Medical Leave)

September 1, 1996 Advisory

In a case of first impression, the Connecticut Supreme Court recently held that an employee who settles his claim for workers' compensation benefits can also compromise his dependent's right to survivorship benefits. In Duni v. United Technologies Corp., et. al, the employee entered into a "Stipulation for Full and Final Settlement" with his employer, the employer's workers' compensation carrier, and the Second Injury Fund. Under the terms of the stipulation, the defendants agreed to make a lump sum payment to the employee in return for his agreement to release them from any further liability in connection with his workers' compensation claim. The settlement agreement also purported to bind the employee and anyone else who might ever have a claim against the defendants on account of his work-related injuries. However, following the employee's death, his widow filed a claim for survivor's benefits, arguing that since her right to these benefits was independent of her husband's workers' compensation claim, he did not have the authority to compromise her right to seek survivor's benefits after his death.

The Court focused on the stipulation's language to ascertain whether it actually extinguished the dependent's survivor's benefits. The stipulation provided that it was in "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." Based on this language, the Court found that the plain terms foreclosed all claims arising from the employee's alleged injuries, including the widow's claim for survivor's benefits.

The Duni decision, while clearly an employer victory, shows how crucial it is to use precise language in such settlements if the employer expects them to truly dispose of all possible claims.