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Employer who stalled on comp payment must pay 20% penalty to worker

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An injured worker is entitled to a 20% penalty from an employer that was late in paying a compensation claim, a New York appeals court has ruled.

Laurette Liberius was injured in May 2010 while working at the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., according to court records. In 2011, the New York Workers’ Compensation Board determined that Ms. Liberius had sustained work-related injuries to the neck, back, right shoulder and right thumb which resulted in a permanent partial disability equal to a 17% loss of use of her right arm.

The board awarded Ms. Liberius $25,905.80 in compensation in February 2012, but the employer failed to pay the award until September 2012. Accordingly, Ms. Liberius requested that the employer pay a penalty amounting to 20% of the unpaid compensation, pursuant to a provision in the state’s workers compensation law requiring payment within 10 days.

However, at a subsequent hearing, a workers compensation law judge declined to impose the penalty and instead fined New York City Health and Hospitals Corp. $500 under the rules of a conciliation process that is intended to handle claims on a more streamlined and informal basis.

Ms. Liberius then appealed the judge’s decision to the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board. However, the board ruled against her in December 2013, noting that both the employer and employee must consent to conciliation.

The 3rd Department of the State of New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division in Albany ruled Thursday in favor of Ms. Liberius.

In its published ruling, the Supreme Court reversed the New York Workers’ Compensation Board ruling, stating that a decision rendered as part of the conciliation process could not override the state’s workers compensation laws, and awarded Ms. Liberius the 20% penalty.

“The statutory scheme unambiguously entitles claimant to the penalty described in Workers’ Compensation Law,” the ruling states. “A regulation cannot contravene this statutory entitlement.”