Falkowski v. W.E. Bassett Company
Given the plain meaning of Connecticut General Statutes §31-288(b)(2), a trial commissioner is limited to levying a sanction against a party to the litigation and not counsel of record. Emilia Falkowski sought benefits for alleged injuries while employed by W.E. Bassett Company. Claimant's counsel agreed to submit necessary medical records for a commissioner's examination by June 14, 2011, but failed to do so. Attorney Daniel Skuret, II, appeared for the claimant at an emergency hearing instead of Attorney Patrick Skuret and was unable to respond to the reason why the deadline was missed. A fine of $100 was imposed. Following a further hearing with Patrick Skuret present, the commissioner found that the provision of medical records was unduly delayed and imposed the fine of $100 on claimant's counsel citing C.G.S. §31-288(b)(2). Counsel appealed challenging the imposition of the fine and finding of undue delay. The Compensation Review Board vacated the sanctions agreeing that sanctions under C.G.S. §31-288(b)(2) must be assessed against a party, not counsel of record. The matter was remanded to the trial commissioner to determine if a hearing to assess sanctions against the claimant was warranted. The board has made clear in a number of rulings that a trial commissioner should act to ensure that the claimant's right to a prompt adjudication of contested claims is preserved. The circumstances here were found to rise to a factual situation where sanctions should be considered. Given the paramount importance in expediting commissioner's examinations, the factual record would support a finding of undue delay. When counsel became aware that the deadline could not be met, it was their obligation to communicate this to the trial commissioner. That did not occur and the neglect delayed the case without just cause and demonstrated a lack of respect to the tribunal and administrative procedures utilized to accomplish the purposes of the act. Nonetheless, given the plain meaning of the statute, the trial commissioner was limited to levying a sanction against a party and not counsel of record. Although this created a circumstance where the claimant may be penalized for their counsel's mistakes, the statute was clear.