Employer barred from contesting "new" injuries for repetitive trauma

In Callender v. Reflexite Corporation, the Appellate Court of Connecticut decided that the employer was barred from contesting an employee's claims for worker's compensation benefits for repetitive trauma injuries because it failed to timely file a contest of the claim or to begin making payments on the claim within 28 days after it received the notice of claim. The company argued that the employee's claim was not a new and separate injury, but merely a reassertion of a previous claim filed by the claimant for the same injuries, but the appeals court rejected this argument.

Repetitive trauma injuries are typically caused by work activities that involve repetitive motions, body positions that are awkward or static, vibration, mental stress, forceful exertions such as lifting, pushing, pulling and gripping, and other factors. Once a claimant files a written notice of claim for worker's compensation benefits, Connecticut law provides that the employer has 28 days from the date it received the notice of claim to contest liability.

Background and procedural history

The claimant worked for the company for almost 20 years. In 2005, the claimant filed a claim for injuries resulting from repetitive workplace trauma in 1987 to 2004 that allegedly caused a painful condition affecting her neck, lower back, right arm, and both of her shoulders and hands. The company timely filed a contest of the claim, and began making payments in a timely manner.

In 2007, the claimant filed a new notice of claim for repetitive trauma injuries in 1987 to 2006 to her neck, upper and lower back, and both of her shoulders, hands, elbows, and "upper limbs," as well as an injury to her brain in the form of chronic pain and depression.

After the company failed to respond to the 2006 claim, the claimant sought a ruling barring the company from legally contesting the compensability of the 2006 injuries and the extent of her disability arising from the 2006 injuries. The worker's compensation commissioner denied the claimant's request on the basis that the 2006 claim was not a new injury, separate and apart from the injury alleged in the 2004 claim. The commissioner ruled that the company's timely challenge to the 2004 claim adequately preserved its rights to contest the 2006 claim.

The commissioner's decision was upheld by the Compensation Review Board, which ruled that the injuries alleged in the 2006 claim were additional injuries arising from the 2004 incident, and that the claimant's request was improper where only the extent of the claimant's disability is contested.

The claimant filed an appeal in the Appellate Court.

The appellate court's ruling

The appellate court held that the claimant's notice of claim for the 2006 injuries appeared to allege a new and separate injury. The reported date of injury was different from the date listed on the notice of claim for the 2004 injuries. The claimed injuries were also different from the injuries previously claimed. Since the employer did not timely respond to the new notice of claim by contesting the claim or commencing payments on the new claim within 28 days of the filing of the notice of claim, the commissioner was required to rule that the company was precluded by law from contesting the compensability of the 2006 injuries, the appellate court wrote.

Workers' compensation matters can involve complex legal issues. Individuals seeking relief under the workers' compensation laws are urged to consult the professional services of a competent attorney who is experienced in such matters to ensure that their rights are fully protected.