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Wrubleski v. Kimberly-Clark Corp.

CASE NO. 3106 CRB-7-95-6

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

DECEMBER 24, 1996

ELEANOR WRUBLESKI

CLAIMANT-APPELLEE

v.

KIMBERLY-CLARK CORP.

EMPLOYER

SELF-INSURED

RESPONDENT-APPELLANT

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Bernard Pitterman, Esq., Guendelsberger & Taylor, 28 Park Lane, New Milford, CT 06776.

The respondent was represented by Philip Spillane, Esq., Baker, Moots & Pellegrini, 46 Main St., P. O. Box 1319, New Milford, CT 06776.

This Petition for Review from the June 7, 1995 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Seventh District was heard June 14, 1996 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman Jesse M. Frankl and Commissioners George A. Waldron and Robin L. Wilson.

OPINION

JESSE M. FRANKL, CHAIRMAN. The respondent has petitioned for review from the June 7, 1995 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Seventh District. The respondent argues on appeal that the commissioner erred by finding it liable for benefits and medical expenses related to the claimant’s bilateral carpal tunnel injury. We affirm the trial commissioner’s decision.

The basic question in this case is whether a July 15, 1992 stipulation covers the claimant’s repetitive trauma bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. The claimant filed a workers’ compensation claim for a March 11, 1991 injury that occurred when an electric cart the claimant was driving hit a wall. The commissioner found that the stipulation was for “an accidental injury to the (claimant’s) cervical spine and a laceration to her right leg on March 11, 1991,” and stated that the respondent denied dizziness and headaches, or any injury to the claimant’s back, hands, or feet, as a result of the workplace accident. About one month after the stipulation was approved, the claimant began treating with Dr. Mitchell for pain and numbness in the first three digits of her hands. Dr. Mitchell diagnosed carpal tunnel syndrome and attributed it to the claimant’s repetitive overuse of her hands at her job rather than the March 11, 1991 accident.

The commissioner was persuaded by Dr. Mitchell’s opinions, concluding that the claimant sustained carpal tunnel syndrome from repetitive trauma arising from her employment with the respondent, and that the stipulation did not resolve a repetitive trauma claim to both hands. She also concluded that two Acknowledgments of Physical Defect executed by the claimant did not specify repetitive trauma injuries to the hand or wrist. Thus, the commissioner ruled that the self-insured employer was liable for all indemnity and medical expenses arising from the carpal tunnel injury. The respondent has appealed that decision, arguing that the claimant’s carpal tunnel claim was in existence at the time the stipulation was approved, and that it was consequently discharged. The claimant responds that she did not make a claim for repetitive trauma arising out of the 1991 accident, and that neither the settlement nor the acknowledgments mention the claimant’s wrists, which are the actual locations of her carpal tunnel trauma.

A review of Claimant’s Exhibit A shows that the claimant listed “paresthesia in her hands and feet”1 as one of her injuries, but the respondent denied such an injury in the settlement. The respondent accepted injuries to the claimant’s cervical spine and a laceration to her right leg in the agreement (both of which were made the subject of acknowledgments of physical defect on August 19, 1992). The parties agreed that the claimant would accept $10,000 as “a full and final settlement for all compensation for said injuries . . . to the end that the payment of such sum shall constitute a complete satisfaction of all claims due . . . on account of the claimed injuries, or on account of any condition in any way resulting out of the said injuries . . . .” Soon after, the claimant filed a Notice of Claim for an August 26, 1992 repetitive trauma injury in the form of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, which the respondent contested. (Claimant’s Exhibit C).

Explicit in the language of this settlement is a notion common to most full and final settlements of a workers’ compensation claim: that the stipulation is intended to foreclose a claimant from making a future claim for any disability or medical bill that flows from the compensable injury. See Muldoon v. Homestead Insulation Co., 231 Conn. 469, 480-81 (1994). By definition, however, the settlement would not prevent a claimant from raising a claim that is not related to the settled injury. Id. The respondent argues in its brief that it is immaterial whether the claimant’s carpal tunnel syndrome was caused by the March 1991 compensable injury or by repetitive trauma, reasoning that the mere fact that the carpal tunnel syndrome existed at the time of the settlement bars that claim now, because the settlement resolved all known and unknown claims of injury to the hands, among other body parts. This argument overlooks two factors, however.

First, a release, “no matter how broad its terms, will not be construed to include claims not within the contemplation of the parties.” Muldoon, supra, 482, citing Chubb v. Amax Coal Co., 125 Ill. App. 3d 682, 685-87, 466 N.E.2d 369 (1984). Although a post-settlement claim may often be negated because it was in being at the time the release was executed, see Muldoon, supra, this is not the only question that need be asked. We must not lose sight of the fact that a workers’ compensation settlement is intended to resolve claims that arise out of a specific event or events. The absence of a relationship between a claimant’s carpal tunnel syndrome and a compensable injury, combined with a finding that the claimant did not make a claim for carpal tunnel before the stipulation was approved, could justify a commissioner’s conclusion that the incidents of such an injury are outside the scope of the prior stipulation. We note that, on review, we are not in a superior position to the trial commissioner to evaluate the contractual intent of the parties.

Moreover, there is evidence to support the trial commissioner’s findings regarding causation. Specifically, the commissioner reasonably found that the claimant’s 1991 paresthesia (finger numbness) was related to her cervical spine injury as specified in the stipulation and in one of the acknowledgments of physical defect. She also found that the claimant’s carpal tunnel syndrome was related to repetitive trauma, not the cervical spine injury, and that it was located in her wrists and not only her hands. This finding is also supported by evidence. (See, e.g., Oct. 27, 1993 Dep. of Dr. Mitchell, pp. 13, 26-28). Where there is medical evidence to support a commissioner’s findings, we may not reevaluate the trier’s determination of credibility. Webb v. Pfizer, Inc., 14 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 69, 70-71, 1859 CRB-5-93-9 (May 12, 1995). Therefore, we will not disturb her factual findings on appeal.

Even though the claimant’s carpal tunnel syndrome existed at the time the parties reached their settlement, the commissioner’s findings establish that it was not related to the 1991 accidental injury that was the subject of the stipulation. Consequently, we affirm her decision that the claimant was not precluded from filing a notice of claim for the repetitive trauma injury at issue here.

Commissioners George A. Waldron and Robin L. Wilson concur.

1 “Paresthesia” is defined as “abnormal sensation without objective cause, such as numbness, prickling, and tingling; heightened sensitivity.” Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, 12th Ed., P-28 (1973). BACK TO TEXT

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State of Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission, John A. Mastropietro, Chairman
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