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Connecticut law and the "substantial certainty" exception

Under Connecticut law, workers' compensation is supposed to provide an exclusive remedy. This means that an employee who collects workers' compensation benefits after being injured in a workplace accident is typically barred from filing suit against the employer over the same incident.

A recent case from another state helps illustrate this point and one of its rare exceptions. A waitress for a catering company was working at a wedding reception when her duties called on her and a coworker to wheel a cart carrying a flaming pig. Her coworker poured grain alcohol on the pig to keep the flame burning as they wheeled the cart. Somehow, the flame flared up and the waitress received serious burns to her hand, forearm and abdomen.

The waitress collected workers' compensation benefits to help with the medical expenses and lost wages caused by her injury. However, she argued that she should also be able to file a suit against her employer alleging that her injuries were the result of her employer's negligent failure to properly train her coworker.

Under New Jersey law, an injured worker who has already gone through the workers' compensation claim process is not barred from filing suit against the employer if the employer's failure to train the coworker created a "substantial certainty" that someone would be injured. However, she failed to convince the court, which found that the employer did not knowingly expose her to "a virtual certainty" of harm.

Connecticut has a different, but similar workers' compensation law. While workers' compensation is presumed to be an exclusive remedy, Connecticut provides exceptions when the employer intentionally injured the employee or created a dangerous condition that the employer believed would make injury substantially certain to occur. This is known as the "substantial certainty standard."

When it works well, the workers' compensation system is relatively straightforward: An injured worker makes a claim and the employers' insurance company pays for the benefits. When the system doesn't work as it should, it can get very complicated very quickly. Workers making a claim for workers' compensation can greatly benefit from the help of a qualified Connecticut attorney to make sure they get the benefits they need.

Source: Risk & Insurance, "Waitress can't sue employer for flaming pig incident," Dec. 16. 2013

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