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Peters v. Corporate Air, Inc.

CASE NO. 1679 CRB-5-93-3

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

MAY 19, 1995

THOMAS PETERS

CLAIMANT-APPELLANT

v.

CORPORATE AIR, INC.

EMPLOYER

and

HARTFORD INSURANCE GROUP

INSURER

RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Richard A. Cerrato, Esq., 3180 Main Street, Suite 2A, Bridgeport, CT 06606.

The respondents were represented by Jason M. Dodge, Esq., Pomeranz, Drayton & Stabnick, 95 Glastonbury Blvd., Glastonbury, CT 06033, who did not appear at oral argument.

This Petition for Review from the March 22, 1993 Finding and Dismissal of the Commissioner acting for the Fifth District was heard April 29, 1994 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman Jesse M. Frankl and Commissioners Angelo L. dos Santos and Nancy A. Brouillet.

OPINION

JESSE M. FRANKL, CHAIRMAN. The claimant appeals from the decision of the trial commissioner dismissing his claim for benefits. The trial commissioner found that the claimant had failed to meet his burden of proof that he sustained an injury arising out of and in the course of his employment with the respondent employer. The claimant filed a Motion to Submit Additional Evidence and Testimony, which was heard by this Board on January 28, 1994. The Board denied the claimant’s motion by a decision issued on March 14, 1994. In support of his present appeal, the claimant reiterates the contentions which he made in his Motion to Correct the Findings and Motion for Articulation, both of which were denied by the trial commissioner. Essentially, the claimant contends that the trial commissioner improperly admitted irrelevant evidence and hearsay evidence at the formal hearing, and that the trial commissioner improperly relied on such evidence to support his findings of fact. The claimant further contends that the findings of fact fail to include “undisputed” facts. In addition, the claimant contends that the commissioner’s denial of his Motion for Articulation denied him his right to know the material facts upon which the commissioner based his decision. We disagree.

As to the argument regarding the Motion for Articulation, such motions are granted when the basis of the commissioner’s conclusion is unclear. “An articulation may be necessary where the trial court fails completely to state any basis for its decision; or where the basis, although stated, is unclear.” State v. Wilson, 199 Conn. 417, 434 (1986). In paragraph B of his decision, the commissioner stated: “The claimant has not sustained his burden of proof that he sustained an injury arising out of and in the course of his employment with the employer-respondent.” The commissioner’s findings of fact set out the discrepancies in the claimant’s contentions and discrepancies regarding the date of the alleged injury, and further indicate that the medical reports do not mention a work-related injury until after the claimant was discharged. Thus, the findings of fact provide a basis for the commissioner’s credibility determination against the claimant, and support his determination that the claimant did not sustain his burden of proving that a work-related injury occurred. Therefore, there is no error in the commissioner’s denial of the claimant’s Motion for Articulation.

In support of his present appeal, the claimant argues that the commissioner improperly based his decision on irrelevant evidence and hearsay evidence. The claimant specifically refers to the alleged reasons for the claimant’s discharge as stated in #15 of the Findings of Fact as being both irrelevant and hearsay. Under the circumstances in this case, we find that the issue of the claimant’s discharge was not irrelevant. Moreover, even if we were to find that the commissioner admitted irrelevant evidence, we would nevertheless find that it constituted a harmless error. We have ruled that:

While irrelevant testimony before a jury may have a tendency to distract attention from the real issues... the same is not true in a trial to a court. In a trial to a court, as opposed to a trial to a jury, the admission and use of irrelevant evidence is generally harmless simply because it is not relevant to the basic issues.
Flowers v. Benny’s of Connecticut, 12 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 162, 164, 1527 CRB-2-92-10 (April 26, 1994) (citation omitted).

Workers’ compensation commissioners are not bound by common law or statutory rules of evidence, “but shall make inquiry, through oral testimony or written and printed records, in a manner that is best calculated to ascertain the substantial rights of the parties and carry out the provisions and intent of this chapter.” § 31-298 C.G.S. “Nonetheless, procedural due process is a requirement of adjudicative administrative hearings, including those held before workmen’s compensation commissioners, and the admission of hearsay material such as letters without an opportunity to cross-examine is ordinarily a deprivation of procedural due process.” Balkus v. Terry Steam Turbine Co., 167 Conn. 170, 177 (1974). In Lee v. City of Norwalk, 13 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 23, 1626 CRB-7-93-1 (Nov. 7, 1994), this Board recently ruled that a commissioner’s improper admission of an independent medical examining report without affording the opportunity for the claimant to cross-examine the author of that report was reversible error. However, the case at hand is distinguishable from the case of Lee, supra, because in Lee the Board determined that the commissioner’s dismissal of the claimant’s claim rested “almost exclusively” on the medical report, and that the commissioner “quoted substantially” from that report in his written decision.

In contrast, in the case before us, the commissioner’s decision did not rest substantially upon the evidence to which the claimant objects. In the instant case, the claimant specifically objects to the admission of testimony and exhibits regarding the claimant’s work record, including complaints which had been made regarding the claimant’s conduct in the course of his employment, the admission of the claimant’s resume, and the questioning of the claimant regarding complaints which he filed against the employer following his discharge. Aside from Finding of Fact #15, the commissioner’s decision does not include evidence which is contested by the claimant.

We conclude that the commissioner’s credibility determination against the claimant is fully supported by the uncontested evidence, including the claimant’s own contradictory evidence. We thus find that the admission of evidence which the claimant on appeal contends was inadmissible hearsay, constituted at most harmless error.

The commissioner ’s decision was based on the weight and credibility which he afforded the evidence. The conclusions of a trial commissioner “must stand unless they result from an incorrect application of the law to the subordinate facts or from an inference illegally or unreasonably drawn from them.” Fair v. People’s Savings Bank, 207 Conn. 535, 539 (1988); Adzima v. UAC/Norden Division, 177 Conn. 107, 118 (1979). Because we do not retry the facts, it was within the province of the trial commissioner to resolve any alleged inconsistencies or contradictions in the evidence. See Miller v. Kirshner, 225 Conn. 185, 198-99 (1993); State v. Sherbacow, 21 Conn. App. 474, 479-80, cert denied, 216 Conn. 808 (1990). The commissioner’s decision is adequately supported by the record. The conclusions reached from the facts found did not result from incorrect applications of law or from inferences illegally or unreasonably drawn from those facts, and thus those conclusions must stand. Fair v. People’s Savings Bank, supra, 539.

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

Commissioners Angelo L. dos Santos and Nancy A. Brouillet concur.

Workers’ Compensation Commission

Page last revised: January 21, 2005

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