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Notable Win: Donald Servais v. Ocean Wholesale Nursery, LLC

Client: Ocean Wholesale Nursery as insured by Farm Family and third party was ESIS

Court: Appellate Division

Trial Attorney: John H. Geaney, Esq.

Brief Attorney: John H. Geaney, Esq. and former Capehart Scatchard attorney, Dana M. Gayeski, Esq., of counsel, on the briefs.

John H. Geaney, Esq. argued the appeal.

**Results may vary depending on your particular facts and legal circumstances**

This case involved a dispute about an Employment Separation Agreement and whether that agreement could have been construed to constitute a payment of workers’ compensation benefits, thereby tolling the statute of limitations. Our office represented Farm Family Insurance and ESIS.

Petitioner, hired as a consultant by respondent, Ocean Wholesale Nursery, LLC, suffered an amputation of three fingers of his right hand in January 2016. Believing the injury occurred at petitioner’s home, respondent paid no workers’ compensation benefits. Petitioner, however, believed that during his five years working with respondent their relationship had changed to that of an employee and filed a formal claim petition in October 2018.

Respondent filed a motion to dismiss under the two year statute of limitations. The motion was countered by an argument that an Employee Separation Agreement signed in January 2017 which paid petitioner $5,000 to resolve the business relationship was ambiguous and could have led petitioner to believe that the payment was in part for the loss of his fingers.

The parties agreed to try the issue of the statute of limitations separately and then reserve for a later trial all other issues, such as compensability and employment.

Upon hearing testimony and reviewing the terms of the Employment Separation Agreement, the Judge of Compensation concluded that the Separation Agreement included any and all claims, including the loss of fingers.  The judge also found that petitioner was an employee and was injured during the course of employment, although the judge previously agreed that these issues would be held for a later hearing.  Finally, the judge apportioned $1,000 of the $5,000 paid under the Separation Agreement to the petitioner’s injury to his fingers.

Farm Family appealed the decision to the Appellate Division, which reversed in favor of Farm Family and vacated the substantial award to petitioner.  The Appellate Division held that the Separation Agreement was not ambiguous and was not a payment of workers’ compensation benefits.

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