Cop’s worker compensation claim sparks RTM debate

The Representative Town Meeting voted by a two-thirds majority Tuesday to settle a worker’s compensation claim of about $35,000 with police Officer Michael Gudzik. That margin, however, belied many RTM members’ dissatisfaction with the processing of the claim.

Gudzik filed a hypertension-related claim with the Police Department in June 2011, an application that was supposed to be forwarded directly to the office of Town Attorney Ira Bloom. But the claim was delivered to Bloom after the state-mandated deadline had passed for the town to contest the claim.

Under state law, the town would not have been able to appeal the claim even if it had been processed expeditiously. Gudzik was guaranteed the worker’s compensation claim because he had fulfilled several criteria, including filing a written notice with the Police Department within a year of the start of his hypertension and obtaining a physician’s diagnosis of his condition.

Several RTM members expressed frustration about the tardiness of processing the claim and the town’s decision not to seek a second opinion on Gudzik’s condition.

“Anyone watching this tonight, hearing that somebody in the Police Department sat on a letter or didn’t forward a letter on a claim, and then the town didn’t even get a second opinion by a doctor, we look like a bunch of fools, quite frankly,” said John McCarthy, District 9. “This is a black eye for the town of Westport.”

Other RTM members had a different view.

“This is a glitch. It’s not a black mark on the town of Westport,” said Richard Lowenstein, District 5. “Something happened, and I’m confident it won’t happen again.”

In an interview Wednesday with the Westport News, Bloom described the tardy filing of Gudzik’s claim as an “administrative mistake.” The failure, he added, is the first time that a town employee worker’s compensation claim had not been delivered on time to his office during his tenure.

“At worst, this was an inadvertent mix-up,” said Police Chief Dale Call. “We know what the process is, and we’re committed to following that process.”

Call, who was sworn in as chief last October, was deputy chief when Gudzik filed his claim and was not involved in the initial processing of the case.

Gudzik was the town’s fourth highest-paid municipal employee last year with total compensation of approximately $143,000. He is still an active member of the Police Department.

The $35,000 settlement reached by the town and Gudzik’s lawyer on the worker’s compensation claim was based on the determination by Gudzik’s doctor that the police officer had suffered between 5 and 9 percent heart impairment because of his hypertension.

While the town normally seeks an independent medical exam for employees’ hypertension claims, it did not ask Gudzik to undergo further medical review because it judged its settlement with him to be an equitable resolution, Bloom said.

The RTM voted 24-4, with one abstention, to approve Gudzik’s claim. Many RTM members, however, called for changes to the town’s review process of worker’s compensation cases.

“I think we definitely need a policy in place to ensure that all hypertension cases regardless of the dollar amount be reviewed by a medical professional representing the town,” said Allen Bomes, District 7.

Bloom said he would consider RTM members’ request.

“You don’t want to be wasteful about expenses associated with these cases,” he added, “but they have a legitimate point that we’ll certainly review on our end.”