Under Connecticut law, the “Safe Harbor” provision of C.G.S. § 31-294c (b) has widely been interpreted as providing protections, for up to one year, to respondent employers and insurers who pay or deny a workers’ compensation claim, within 28 days of receipt of notice of a claim.
In June 2019, the Appellate Court of Connecticut released a decision upending the protections of the Safe Harbor provision. In Woodbury-Correa v. Reflexite Corp., 190 Conn. App. 623 (2019), the Appellate Court held that the “safe harbor” provision only applies when the respondent is contesting the extent of the claimant’s injury, and does not apply to a respondent who is contesting liability as to that injury.
In Woodbury-Correa, the claimant did not seek indemnity or medical benefits during the 28 day period, following the filing of her Form 30C Notice of Claim. The respondent filed its Form 43 Denial of the Claim within one year, and argued that it should not be foreclosed from contesting liability because it was impossible to make payments within the 28 day period. While the lower courts determined that the respondent was protected by the Safe Harbor provision, because it filed a Form 43 within the one year Safe Harbor period, the Appellate Court disagreed.
The Appellate Court concluded that if an employer chooses to contest liability, it must properly and timely file a Form 43 Denial, regardless of whether the claimant sought indemnity payments or submitted medical bills within the 28 days of the Form 30C filing. In doing so, the court distinguished the case of Dubrosky v. Boehringer Ingelheim Corp., 145 Conn. App. 261 (2013), noting in that case the respondent began paying medical bills upon receipt, and it then filed a Form 43 Denial to contest the extent of the claimant’s disability. The Appellate Court explained that when a respondent does not challenge the claim of a work related injury, but contests only the extent of the claimant’s disability, strict compliance with the 28 day statutory timeframe to begin payment of benefits will be excused when it is impossible for the claimant to comply.
The impact of the Woodbury-Correa case is critical for employers, insurers, and anyone tasked with making decisions about how to respond to a Form 30C Notice of Claim in Connecticut. Under the new interpretation of the Safe Harbor provision, respondents are deemed to have automatically accepted claims that are not contested on a properly filed Form 43 within 28 days of receiving notice of a claim, and will be precluded from contesting liability.