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White v. General Electric Co.

CASE NO. 3132 CRB-6-95-7

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

OCTOBER 16, 1996

CHRISTINE WHITE

CLAIMANT-APPELLANT

v.

GENERAL ELECTRIC CO.

EMPLOYER

and

ELECTRIC MUTUAL LIABILITY INSURANCE COMPANY

INSURER

RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Jack Senich, Esq., and Paul Ranando, Esq., Law Offices of Edward T. Dodd, Jr., Esq., 700 West Johnson Ave., Cheshire, CT 06410.

The respondents were represented by Jason Dodge, Esq., and James L. Pomeranz, Esq., Pomeranz, Drayton & Stabnick, 95 Glastonbury Blvd., Glastonbury, CT 06033.

This Petition for Review from the July 17, 1995 Ruling on Claimant’s Motion to Preclude of the Commissioner acting for the Sixth District was heard February 23, 1996 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman Jesse M. Frankl and Commissioners George A. Waldron and Roberta Smith Tracy.

OPINION

JESSE M. FRANKL, CHAIRMAN. The claimant has petitioned for review from the July 17, 1995 Ruling on Claimant’s Motion to Preclude by the Commissioner acting for the Sixth District. She argues on appeal that the commissioner improperly denied her motion to preclude. We affirm the trial commissioner’s decision.

The claimant alleges that she suffers from an occupational disease as a result of chemical exposure during her employment between 1973 and 1985, with the disease first manifesting itself as kidney cancer in May, 1988. She sent a letter enclosing a Form 30C Notice of Claim to the respondent employer on January 23, 1989. The respondents filed a Form 43 Notice of Intention to Contest Liability on February 3, 1989. The Form 43 stated that “employee’s allegations of cancer relating to original incident appear to be non-work related, liability and medical denied. Non-claim statue [sic].” The claimant had also suffered contact dermatitis as the result of a compensable June 29, 1979 injury in which she was exposed to certain chemicals. The respondents referenced that date of injury in the Form 43; however, the commissioner concluded that the disclaimer substantially complied with the specificity requirements of § 31-297(b) [now § 31-294c]. She noted that the claimant’s Form 30C did not state a specific date of injury, and that the disclaimer clearly contested the timeliness of the claimant’s claim and the existence of a compensable injury. Inferring that the claimant thus had sufficient notice of the reasons for the denial of compensability, the commissioner denied the claimant’s Motion to Preclude. The claimant has appealed that decision to this board.

The claimant argues on review that the commissioner erred in concluding that the respondents stated in their Form 43 sufficiently specific grounds for contesting payment of compensation. The claimant’s Form 30C stated that, during her employment with General Electric from 1973 through 1985, she came into physical contact with various chemicals, causing an occupational health disease that manifested itself in May, 1988. In responding to this notice of claim, the respondents were required to file within 20 days of receipt of the Form 30C “a notice in accord with a form prescribed by the commissioners stating that the right to compensation is contested, the name of the claimant, the name of the employer, the date of the alleged injury or death and the specific grounds on which the right to compensation is contested . . . .” Section 31-297(b) (emphasis added). The respondents’ failure to file such a notice would have resulted in a conclusive presumption that they had accepted the compensability of the injury.

The Form 43 filed by the respondents states that the claimant’s allegations of cancer appear not to be work related, and also cites the statute of non-claim [§ 31-294 C.G.S.]. The commissioner found that this notice clearly contested those two elements of the claimant’s prima facie workers’ compensation case. The purposes of § 31-297(b) are to insure that employers bear the burden of promptly investigating claims, and that employees are timely apprised of the specific reasons for denial of a claim. Menzies v. Fisher, 165 Conn. 338, 343 (1973). Although notice need not be technically perfect, a general denial of compensability is unsatisfactory under the statute; instead, the specific substantive grounds for contesting compensability must be stated. Id., 345; Walter v. State of Connecticut/Services for the Blind, 14 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 107, 110, 1694 CRB-2-93-4 (June 2, 1995). The remedial purpose of the Workers’ Compensation Act mandates that this board overlook minor defects in notice as long as a party is not prejudiced in its ability to investigate claims. Id., 111, citing Pereira v. State, 228 Conn. 535, 543 n.8 (1994).

In light of these principles, we find no error in the commissioner’s conclusion in this case that the respondents’ notice to contest liability sufficiently informed the claimant of its specific defenses. Given her power to evaluate the weight of the evidence and the credibility of the parties’ testimony, she was certainly well within the bounds of her discretion to conclude that the Form 43 made the claimant aware of the respondents’ specific objections. See Adzima v. UAC/Norden Division, 177 Conn. 107, 117-18 (1979); Webb v. Pfizer, Inc., 14 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 69, 70-71, 1859 CRB-5-93-9 (May 12, 1995). The fact that the Form 43 referenced the June 29, 1979 date of injury was not necessarily misleading to the claimant, especially since her cancer was referred to in the description of the employer’s grounds of contest. We certainly do not think that a reversal is warranted here as a matter of law.

The trial commissioner’s decision is affirmed.

Commissioners George A. Waldron and Roberta Smith Tracy concur.

Workers’ Compensation Commission

Page last revised: May 11, 2005

Page URL: http://wcc.state.ct.us/crb/1996/3132crb.htm

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