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Smith v. UTC/Pratt & Whitney

CASE NO. 3134 CRB-3-95-6

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

APRIL 4, 1997

MARGARET E. SMITH

CLAIMANT-APPELLANT

v.

UTC/PRATT & WHITNEY

EMPLOYER

and

CIGNA PROPERTY & CASUALTY

INSURER

RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Joseph Gillis, Esq., Gillis & Gillis, P.C., Two Whitney Ave., Suite 502, New Haven, CT 06510.

The respondents were represented by Richard Stabnick, Esq., Pomeranz, Drayton & Stabnick, 95 Glastonbury Blvd., Glastonbury, CT 06033-4412.

This Petition for Review from the June 21, 1995 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Third District was heard September 20, 1996 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman Jesse M. Frankl and Commissioners Robin L. Wilson and Michael S. Miles.

OPINION

JESSE M. FRANKL, CHAIRMAN. The claimant has petitioned for review from the June 21, 1995 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Third District. She argues on appeal that the commissioner erred by finding that she did not sustain compensable cervical and lumbar spine injuries while working for the respondent employer. We affirm the trial commissioner’s decision.

The claimant, who began working for the employer as a secretary in 1985, became a grit blast operator on the factory floor in 1989. She continued to perform that job until 1992, when she was placed on light duty as a computer operator before terminating her employment at Pratt & Whitney altogether on April 4, 1994. She claimed injuries to her low back, cervical spine, shoulders, legs, wrists, and hands, as well as headaches, during her employment with the respondent. Although the commissioner found the claimant’s carpal tunnel injury compensable, he found that she did not establish by a preponderance of credible medical evidence that she had sustained cervical or lower back injuries at Pratt & Whitney. He also found that she never reported a specific work injury to the medical department at her plant involving her back, neck, legs, shoulders or headaches. He thus dismissed all of those claims, leaving open only the claim for carpal tunnel syndrome. The claimant appealed that decision.1

The claimant argues that the commissioner disregarded undisputed evidence that the claimant reported an injury to her cervical spine to the medical department at Pratt & Whitney on at least two occasions, and that there was ample medical evidence offered to establish cervical and lumbar spine injuries. She argues that he improperly based his findings on the fact that no doctor used the term “reasonable medical probability” in explaining the cause of those injuries. Although it is true that no specific “magic words” are required to establish a conclusion within a reasonable degree of medical probability, the claimant still had the burden of proving the causal relationship between her alleged injuries and her employment based on the substance of the medical testimony. Rogers v. Laidlaw Transit, 2154 CRB-3-94-9 (decided June 24, 1996), citing Struckman v. Burns, 205 Conn. 542, 554-55 (1987), and citing Murchison v. Skinner Precision Industries, Inc., 162 Conn. 142, 151 (1972). In cases where there is conflicting evidence, it is up to the trial commissioner to determine which evidence and testimony is most credible, and this board cannot disturb those decisions on review. Rogers, supra; Webb v. Pfizer, Inc., 14 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 69, 70-71, 1859 CRB-5-93-9 (May 12, 1995).

In her brief, the claimant points to two places in the Pratt & Whitney medical records where pain in her shoulder or upper back was noted. (Claimant’s Exhibit A). Additionally, her Motion to Correct cited a third notation, this time citing lower back pain. However, the commissioner was not required to place inordinate weight on these notations. He attributed the initial cervical and shoulder complaints to manifestations of her carpal tunnel syndrome, as they are frequently an early symptom of carpal tunnel. This is not an unreasonable conclusion, as none of these notations referenced specific injuries. Moreover, the claimant still needed to demonstrate a relationship between her employment and those symptoms in order to prevail on her claim, but was unable to do this to the commissioner’s satisfaction.

The claimant cites the reports of Dr. Blum and Dr. Herring in support of her cause. Although Dr. Blum’s reports (Claimant’s Exhibit D) do mention her complaints of cervical and lower back pain, the sole link they provide between her employment and her symptoms is a statement that the claimant’s “symptoms worsened regularly following the static posturing her job required.” Dr. Herring’s reports (Claimant’s Exhibit F) also mention those symptoms, but do not reach a conclusion regarding their origin. It was within the discretion of the trial commissioner to decline to infer from these reports that the claimant had proven a causal connection between her employment and her injuries with a reasonable degree of medical probability. Webb, supra. We cannot change his findings on review. Adzima v. UAC/Norden Division, 177 Conn. 107, 117-18 (1979).

The trial commissioner’s decision is affirmed.

Commissioners Robin L. Wilson and Michael S. Miles concur.

1 This board denied a Motion to Submit Additional Evidence filed by the claimant in conjunction with this appeal. In a June 4, 1996 decision, we ruled that she could not present a medical opinion from her treating physician regarding her claims for neck and low back injuries because she was unable to establish a good reason for failing to raise this issue at the formal hearing. BACK TO TEXT

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