Should I sign the Voluntary Agreement?

In Connecticut, the Voluntary Agreement is a form by which the respondent/employer accepts the compensability of an injury. This means that the employer/respondent is agreeing that an injury took place at work which arose out of and in the course of your employment. It does not mean that the injured employee can treat wherever she wishes or that the respondent employer will pay for all of the benefits that you request.

In deciding whether to sign this agreement, the employee must carefully review all of the information contained within the agreement. Specifically, you must scrutinize the date of the injury, the injured body parts listed, the average weekly wage and the compensation rate that are set forth. It is common for the employer/respondent to accept only some of the injuries that are being alleged to have happened at work. For example, a worker may have slipped and fallen on a slippery floor sustaining injuries to both her back and neck. The employer may indicate on the voluntary agreement that it is accepting a strain of the lumbar and cervical spine, even though it has been established by an MRI that there are herniated discs at both levels. The employer may do so in an attempt to limit the exposure when a final rating has been provided. By not accepting the herniations, the employer can later make the argument that while it was responsible for a short-term (self-limited) strain of the neck and back, it is not responsible for any permanent injury. Simply stated, the employer is hedging its bets by stating that an injury occurred at work, although it is only accepting responsibility for a sprain, rather than for the more serious herniation. However, with the help of a strong medical report and a good lawyer, the injured employee should be able to prove that the employer is responsible for the herniations, not just the sprain/strain.

The employer may also not include concurrent employment in calculating the compensation rate, which is the amount the carrier will pay you, tax free, each week. Under Connecticut statutes if the injured employee is prevented from working at a second job, then any earnings from the second job must be calculated in her total average weekly wages.

While the voluntary agreement states that this is not a “final agreement”, once the voluntary agreement has been signed by both parties and approved by the commissioner, then the only way to correct a mistake is by filing a Motion to Open the agreement. This will require a hearing before a commissioner, and the burden will be on the moving party. This is not necessarily an easy prospect, and, for that reason, it is strongly recommended that the claimant reviews the proposed voluntary agreement with an attorney prior to signing it.

There are generally two types of voluntary agreements. The first is the one that has been described above and is sometimes called a “jurisdictional” voluntary agreement. The other voluntary agreement is one in which the parties have agreed to the permanency rating that has been issued by either the treating physician, or is a compromise between the treating physician’s rating and an IME rating (and possibly, the commissioner’s examination as well).

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