State of Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission, John A. Mastropietro, Chairman
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Bush v. Quality Bakers of America

CASE NO. 1412 CRB-7-92-4

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

JANUARY 13, 1994

ARLYNE BUSH, Surviving Dependent Widow of ROY BUSH (Deceased)

CLAIMANT-APPELLEE

v.

QUALITY BAKERS OF AMERICA

EMPLOYER

and

THE TRAVELERS INSURANCE CO.

INSURER

RESPONDENTS-APPELLANTS

and

SECOND INJURY FUND

RESPONDENT-APPELLEE

APPEARANCES: The claimant did not appear.

The respondents were represented by Christine L. Harrigan, Esq., Law Offices of Robert S. Cullen, P.O. Box 9802, New Haven, CT 06536-0802.

The Second Injury Fund was represented by Robin L. Wilson, Esq., Assistant Attorney General, 55 Elm Street, P.O. Box 120, Hartford, CT 06101-0120.

This Petition for Review from the April 21, 1992 Finding and Dismissal of the Commissioner for the Seventh District was heard March 12, 1993 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman Jesse Frank! and Commissioners George A. Waldron and Donald H. Doyle, Jr.

OPINION

JESSE FRANKL, CHAIRMAN. General Statutes Sec. 31-306(b) provides: “The dependents of any deceased employee who was injured on or after January 1, 1974, and who died not later than November 1, 1991, shall be paid compensation on account of the death retroactively to the date of the employee’s death. The cost of the payment or adjustment shall be paid by the employer or his insurance carrier who shall be reimbursed therefor from the second injury fund as provided in section 31-354 upon presentation of any vouchers and information that the treasurer shall require.” The respondents have paid benefits to the claimant continuously since the decedent’s compensable injury and resulting death on May 2, 1980. The respondents argue that Sec. 31-306(b) entitles them to reimbursement from the Second Injury Fund for all payments which they have made to the claimant.1 We do not agree.

The respondents base their claim on what they assert is the plain language of Sec. 31-306(b). At first blush, the language of Sec. 31-306(b) seems to support that position. However, the term “retroactively”, contained in the first sentence of Sec. 31-306(b), makes its application to the circumstances of this case problematic. Here, no payment of benefits can fairly be said to be retroactive to the date of death since benefits have at all times been due to the claimant since that date.

The axiom that a statute is to be given its plain meaning applies only where the language is absolutely clear on its face and where no ambiguity is raised in applying the statute in a particular case. Elections Review Committee of the Eighth Utilities District v. FOIC, 219 Conn. 685, 692 (1991); Anderson v. Ludgin, 175 Conn. 545, 554 (1978); Cummings v. Twin Mfg., Inc., 29 Conn. App. 249, 254 (1992). “When application of the statute to a particular situation reveals a latent ambiguity in seemingly unambiguous language, however, we turn for guidance to the purpose of the statute and its legislative history to resolve that ambiguity.” University of Connecticut v. Freedom of Information Commission, 217 Conn. 322, 328 (1991).

Until 1978, General Statutes Sec. 31-306(i) provided that dependents’ benefits were subject to a “waiting period” equal to the period for which compensation payments have been made to the deceased employee if death occurs more than two years after the date of injury. In Iacomacci v. Trumbull, 209 Conn. 219 (1988), an employee, who was injured in 1974, received workers’ compensation benefits until his death from these injuries in 1981. His wife then claimed death benefits and argued that the benefits should be payable from the date of her husband’s death. Our Supreme Court ruled that the law in effect at the time of the injury (the waiting period of Sec. 31-306(i)) was applicable. Thus, payment of death benefits due Mrs. Iacomacci was delayed pursuant to Sec. 31-306(i) for a time period equal to the period during which her husband received compensation benefits before his death.

The legislature promptly enacted what is now Sec. 31-306(b). See Public Act No. 89-68.2 The legislative history pertaining to that provision shows quite clearly that it was intended to allow dependents whose benefits continued to be subject to the Sec. 31-306(i) waiting period to obtain the benefits otherwise precluded by the waiting period retroactively through a mechanism of payment and reimbursement through the Second Injury Fund. See Conn. Joint Standing Committee Hearings, Labor and Public Employees, Part 2, 1989 Sess., pp. 496-502. Thus, the payment of death benefits “retroactive[ ] to the date of the employee’s death” mandated by Sec. 31-306(b) refers to those cases where a payment has been made to fill the compensation gap created by the Sec. 31-306(i) waiting period. The reimbursement authorized by Sec. 31-306(b) is limited to the amount of that retroactive payment.

Here, the law never imposed a waiting period on the claimant’s benefits since the decedent’s injury and death occurred on the same day. The claimant was entitled to and received benefits from the respondents immediately following the injured employee’s death. Consequently, no retroactive payment was required in this case to counteract the application of Sec. 31-306(i). For this reason, Sec. 31-306(b) is not applicable to this case, and the respondents’ claim to reimbursement from the Second Injury Fund is without merit.

We, therefore, affirm the trial commissioner and deny the appeal.

Commissioners George A. Waldron and Donald H. Doyle, Jr. concur.

1 Through March 31, 1992, the respondents had paid a total of $240,104.57 to the claimant in compensation and cost of living adjustments. BACK TO TEXT

2 The text of Public Act No. 89-68 was originally codified in Sec. 31-306(c). In Public Act 92-31, the provision was moved to Sec. 31-306(b) and the date of “December 31, 1981” was changed to “November 1, 1991.” The 1992 amendment did not alter the legislation in any way which is pertinent to the issue presented by this appeal. We therefore refer to the legislation in its present form for the sake of convenience. BACK TO TEXT

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