Stipulations and Vocational Rehabilitation (by Andrew Salerno)

A stipulation is an agreement between the claimant and the respondent in which the claimant gives up his rights under the Worker’s Compensation Act in return for a lump sum payment. Numerous factors go into the establishment of this figure, including, but not limited to, reimbursement for hours which the claimant was unable to work, compensation for work which the claimant will likely miss in the future, medical bills from treatment after the injury, permanent impairment, and compensation for medical expenses which may arise in the future because of the injury.

Once an agreement is made, it must also be reviewed by a commissioner at a hearing with the claimant. The commissioner is charged with ensuring that the claimant is fully aware of the implications of the stipulation and that the agreement is fair and equitable to the claimant. Nearly all stipulations are approved by the commissioner, and these hearings usually last only 15 minutes.

When a claimant signs a stipulation and it is approved, he/she gives up his/her right to several benefits which were previously available. These benefits include, but are not limited to, disability benefits, payment for future medical expenses, and lost earnings caused by having a new job which pays less than the job at the time of injury. The right to these benefits is extinguished because the compensation from the stipulation is meant to be a substitute for the benefits as well as cover any expenses the claimant would have to pay out-of-pocket.

The only benefit which is not extinguished by a stipulation is the right to vocational rehabilitation – a program offered through the State of Connecticut to retrain workers who cannot return to their previous jobs because of their injuries.  First, the claimant must request vocational rehabilitation and be deemed eligible by the Chairman of the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Commission.  Approval is granted if the worker has suffered a permanent impairment that disables the claimant from retaining employment at his/her previous job. If approved, physical, intellectual and psychological evaluations are done to determine what type of rehabilitation is best suited for the claimant. This can include, but is not limited to, assistance in obtaining a job with his/her previous employer, on-the-job training with a new employer, or vocational education for a new profession  Applicants may be entitle to receive courses which will provide the equivalent of an Associate’s degree.  The application is very simple and can be online at http://wcc.state.ct.us/download/acrobat/rehabapp.pdf, or at each of the district offices.  The Chairman is responsible for supplying appropriate services such as training in job seeking skills, individual counseling, and follow-up assessments to ensure the vocational rehabilitation is successful. In many instances, allowance payments are made to the claimant while he/she is undergoing vocational rehabilitation. Poor behavior, substandard performance in rehabilitation programs, or excessive absences from training will result in the discontinuance of benefits.

A stipulation agreement is final. Barring rare exceptions, once a stipulation is signed by both parties and approved by the commissioner, the case is closed and the claimant is unable to seek any additional compensation for the injury. The only time a case is reopened is if there is evidence of fraudulent claims, or if there was a mutual mistake made at the time the final agreement was entered into. It is the commissioner who decides if a case may be reopened.

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