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Roy v. UTC/Pratt & Whitney

CASE NO. 3131 CRB-1-95-7

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

MAY 12, 1997

ROGER ROY

CLAIMANT-APPELLANT

v.

UTC/PRATT & WHITNEY

EMPLOYER

and

CIGNA PROPERTY & CASUALTY

INSURER

RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES

and

SECOND INJURY FUND

RESPONDENT-APPELLEE

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Michael L. Tierney, Esq., 704 Stratfield Road, Fairfield, CT 06432.

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

The Second Injury Fund was not represented at oral argument. Notice sent to Ernie Walker, Esq., Assistant Attorney General, 55 Elm St., P. O. Box 120, Hartford, CT 06141-0120.

This Petition for Review from the July 24, 1995 Finding and Dismissal of the Commissioner acting for the First District was heard September 20, 1996 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of Commissioners Robin L. Wilson, Angelo L. dos Santos and Nancy A. Brouillet.

OPINION

ROBIN L. WILSON, COMMISSIONER. The claimant has petitioned for review from the July 24, 1995 Finding and Dismissal of the Commissioner acting for the First District. He argues on appeal that the commissioner erred in denying his Motion to Preclude and in dismissing his claim on the merits. We affirm the trial commissioner’s decision.

The claimant filed a Form 30C claiming benefits for a job-related heart attack and stress condition on May 17, 1993. The respondent employer filed a Form 43 on May 26, 1993, notifying the claimant and this Commission of its intent to contest liability for the claim. Although the Form 30C refers to May 3, 1993 as the date of injury, the Form 43 lists that date as May 17. The commissioner ruled that, despite that error, the Form 43 sufficiently notified the claimant that compensability was being contested, and denied the claimant’s Motion to Preclude. The claimant’s first argument on appeal is that the Motion to Preclude should have been granted.

Whenever an employer contests a workers’ compensation claim, he is required to file notice stating “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 31-294c C.G.S. The purpose of this statute is to insure that employers promptly investigate claims and that employees are timely apprised of the specific reasons for their denial. Menzies v. Fisher, 165 Conn. 338, 343 (1973). As long as the specific substantive grounds for contesting liability are stated, a Form 43 need not be technically perfect. Id., 345; White v. General Electric Co., 3132 CRB-6-95-7 (decided Oct. 16, 1996). Minor defects in notice will be overlooked as long as a party is not prejudiced in its ability to maintain or respond to a claim. Id.; see also Pereira v. State, 228 Conn. 535, 543 n.8 (1994).

In White, supra, we held that a commissioner was entitled to find that a claimant was sufficiently apprised of the respondents’ specific objections to a claim, even though the Form 43 referenced the wrong date of injury. The respondents’ description of their objections was specific enough to compensate for the incorrect date. The same reasoning applies here. The Form 43 filed by the respondents states that compensability is being contested because of improper notice and a lack of medical documentation verifying the work-related injury, and because the injury did not arise out of and in the course of employment. The commissioner was correct in finding that the intent of this document to disclaim the alleged injury is clear, and that it substantially complies with § 31-294c.1

Turning to the merits, the commissioner found that the claimant had worked as a machine fitter or scraper for Pratt & Whitney from 1967 through the end of the 1980’s, at which point his job duties changed in accordance with a “Job Design Program.” The claimant’s new position required him to become more versatile and learn new duties allegedly ranging from very menial tasks to assignments requiring high technological skill. He claimed not to have the proper training for those duties, and filed numerous grievances against his employer. This situation allegedly caused him stress, which manifested itself as chest pains, and was compounded by the fact that Pratt & Whitney was going through layoffs, leaving the claimant uncertain as to his job security.

The commissioner took note of the claimant’s personal and family history of heart attacks, his lifelong smoking habit, his debt troubles, and the numerous medications that he was taking for his heart condition prior to May 1993. He also noted that the claimant entered the “Job Design Program” voluntarily, thereby receiving a pay increase. The commissioner cited three different doctors’ opinions on the claimant’s cardiac condition. One stated that the high stress level might have played a role in his symptoms, one stated that it was a “minor, contributory factor,” and the third doctor issued two reports, the first not mentioning job stress at all, and the second stating that the claimant’s “extreme degree of job related stress” was a contributing factor in his coronary disease. The commissioner concluded that the claimant had not provided sufficient medical evidence to establish that his employment significantly contributed to his cardiac infarction of May 3, 1993, and dismissed his claim. The claimant appealed that ruling.

In a workers’ compensation case, the claimant has the burden of proving that he has suffered an injury arising out of and in the course of his employment. Murchison v. Skinner Precision Industries, Inc., 162 Conn. 142, 151 (1972). The commissioner has the duty of weighing the evidence and making the factual findings. Fair v. People’s Savings Bank, 207 Conn. 535, 539 (1988); Adzima v. UAC/Norden Division, 177 Conn. 107, 117-18 (1979). He then draws inferences from those findings to reach a conclusion. Fair, supra. On review, findings can only be altered if they are without evidentiary support, or if they omit undisputed material facts. Webb v. Pfizer, Inc., 14 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 69, 71, 1859 CRB-5-93-9 (May 12, 1995). Similarly, conclusions must stand unless they result from an incorrect application of the law to the subordinate facts or from an inference unreasonably or illegally drawn from them. Id.

In this case, the claimant offered evidence to support his claim that, within a reasonable degree of medical probability, his heart attack was caused at least in part by work-related stress. See Murchison, supra, 152; Thompson v. State of Connecticut, 15 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 178, 180, 2206 CRB-6-94-11 (March 22, 1996). The trial commissioner simply did not find that evidence convincing enough to meet that standard. As the trier of fact, he was entitled to decide whether the medical reports were persuasive enough to establish a link between the claimant’s heart attack and his job. Webb, supra. None of the doctors offered overwhelming support for the claimant’s case, and both Dr. Dougherty and Dr. Edelen sounded unconvinced as to the importance of workplace stress in causing the claimant’s heart attack. Furthermore, the claimant had a personal history that placed him at very high risk of suffering further heart trouble in the future. Given that, it was reasonable for the commissioner to conclude that the claimant did not sufficiently prove his case. We cannot disturb his decision on review.

The trial commissioner’s decision is affirmed.

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

1 We also note that the claimant’s Motion to Preclude was initially discussed at the March 8, 1995 formal hearing, which was the second formal hearing in this case. The first, held on December 21, 1994, concerned compensability, and predated the filing of the Motion to Preclude. Although the trial commissioner had the authority to consider this motion, we believe that parties should be discouraged from filing Motions to Preclude after a formal hearing has already been held in a case. BACK TO TEXT

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