‘It’s in the Mail’ Not Good Enough to Contest Connecticut Workers’ Comp Claim

By Andrew G. Simpson | April 25, 2024

A Connecticut employer lost its right to contest a workers’ compensation claim because although it mailed its notice to the workers compensation board within the 28 day statutory period, board did not receive the notice by the 28th day.

The Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that the “filing” of a notice is effective on the date it is received by the board, not when it is mailed.

Connecticut workers’ compensation law states that whenever an employer contests liability to pay workers’ compensation benefits, the employer “shall file” with the workers’ compensation administrative law judge a notice of intention to contest the employee’s right to benefits on or before the 28th day after the employer has received the employee’s written notice of claim.

In the case before the court, Frank Lill & Son, Inc., the employer, and its workers’ compensation carriers were appealing from a decision by an administrative law judge that was upheld by the Compensation Review Board to preclude them from contesting liability for the employee’s claim. Those judges concluded that Lill and its insurers had failed to commence payment for the claims or file the notice of intention to contest (Form 43) within 28 days following receipt of the plaintiff’s notice of claims. The employer and insurers were thus presumed to have accepted the compensability of the plaintiff’s alleged injuries and were precluded from contesting his claims.

On appeal, the employer and insurers claimed that they had timely complied with the statutory obligation to contest liability because they placed the Form 43 notice in the mail within the statutory period, and “mailing” is the same as “filing” for purposes of the statute. They argued that placing that notice in the mail within the 28 day statutory period met the requirements of the statute, regardless of whether that notice is received after the statutory period has elapsed.

The state’s high court rejected their appeal, agreeing with the administrative law judge and compensation board that “mailing” is not the same as “filing.”

While the statute does not define the word “file,” the court looked to dictionary definitions and concluded that it was “plain and unambiguous” that an employer’s notice of intention to contest an employee’s right to compensation benefits must be delivered, and not just mailed, to the administrative law judge on or before the 28th day after the employer received the employee’s notice of claim.

To support its opinion, the court noted that in addition to requiring the employer to “file” a notice of intention to contest with the administrative law judge, the statute requires the employer to “send” a copy of its notice of intention to the employee. The court said the use of the words “send” and “file” in the same provision suggest that the legislature intended for the terms to have different meanings. If the legislature had wanted for an employer to meet its statutory requirements by simply mailing its notice of intention to the administrative law judge, it could have used the word “send” rather than the word “file,” the plain meaning of which requires an employer to do more than place the notice in the mail, the court added.

The Supreme Court court rejected the employer’s argument that the “mailbox rule” applies in the case. That rule provides that a properly stamped and addressed letter that is placed in a mailbox or submitted to the US Postal Service raises a rebuttable presumption that it will be received. The high court ruled that a presumption that the notice of intention will be received does not raise a presumption that that notice will be received timely, on or before the 28th day. “Even if that rule did apply in the present case, the presumption that the Form 43 would be received is not enough for the employer to meet its statutory obligation,” the court found.

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