Cordero v. University of Connecticut Health Center
Connecticut General Statutes §17b-93(a) establishes a general rule for a claim for reimbursement of public assistance benefits by the state under which the state has a claim for the full amount of its benefit payments against a beneficiary who has or acquires property, and the exception in C.G.S. §17b-94(a), which caps the amount of the state's recovery from the proceeds of a beneficiary's cause of action at 50 percent of those proceeds, after deducting certain expenses, does not apply when the beneficiary brings an action against the state. Nilsa Cordero, employed by Hartford Elderly Services, LLC, was injured while waiting for a client in the University of Connecticut Health Center, when a television set fell from a wall onto her. She received workers' compensation benefits and, after receiving permission, filed this negligence action against the health center and state. The state filed a counterclaim, seeking an equitable set-off of the financial assistance it provided to the plaintiff. Hartford Elderly intervened to recover workers' compensation benefits paid to Cordero. Ultimately, the court found the state negligent and rendered judgment for Cordero, awarding $235,070.83 in damages. The parties stipulated to deductions of $156,174.10 for certain expenses and Hartford Elderly's workers' compensation lien, leaving $78,896.73 remaining. The parties agreed that the Department of Administrative Services' lien amounted to $70,628.33 for assistance payments to the plaintiff but, disagreed as to the amount of setoff to which the state was entitled. The state claimed that it was entitled to set off the entire debt owed while the plaintiff contended that, under C.G.S. §17b-94(a), the state's setoff was limited to 50 percent of the remaining proceeds of $78,896.73. The trial court agreed with the plaintiff and limited the setoff to 50 percent of $78,896.73. The state appealed. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment as to the award of damages alone, finding that the trial court improperly applied C.G.S. §17b-94(a) to limit the state's recovery. There was no clear textual evidence that the limitation contained in C.G.S. §17b-94(a) applied to actions against the state. Further, its application to such actions would be inconsistent with the purpose of the limitation therein, namely, to provide a financial incentive to beneficiaries to seek recovery so that the state in turn may benefit from that recovery.