State of Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission, John A. Mastropietro, Chairman
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Pronovost v. UTC/Pratt & Whitney

CASE NO. 3166 CRB-6-95-9

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

FEBRUARY 11, 1997

DENIS PRONOVOST

CLAIMANT-APPELLANT

v.

UTC/PRATT & WHITNEY

EMPLOYER

and

CIGNA PROPERTY & CASUALTY

INSURER

RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Meryl Anne Spat, Esq., 182 Grand St., Suite 314, Waterbury, CT 06702.

The respondents were represented by Margaret Corrigan, Esq., Pomeranz, Drayton & Stabnick, 95 Glastonbury Blvd., Glastonbury, CT 06033.

This Petition for Review from the September 15, 1995 Findings of Facts and Dismissal of the Commissioner acting for the Sixth District was heard August 16, 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 claimant has petitioned for review from the September 15, 1995 Findings of Facts and Dismissal of the Commissioner acting for the Sixth District. He argues on appeal that the trial commissioner improperly dismissed his claim in light of the evidence. We affirm the trial commissioner’s decision.

The claimant sustained a compensable back injury on January 15, 1985, while in the employ of the respondent UTC/Pratt & Whitney. He was treated by Dr. Matza, an orthopedic surgeon, and returned to work. The claimant sustained a second compensable injury to his back and lungs on February 26, 1987, while working for the same employer. This injury was accepted by voluntary agreement. Dr. Matza ordered physical therapy for the back injury on February 27, 1987, and disabled the claimant from work. The claimant contends that he suffered an injury to his right knee as a result of the second back injury, in that extreme back pain caused his right leg to give out on over a dozen occasions, resulting in his repeatedly falling and striking his knee.

The commissioner found that Dr. Matza recorded a history of several of these falls in his office notes, including a May 9, 1986 notation that the claimant struck his right knee against the corner of a step and experienced pain and swelling. The doctor testified that the knee injury was a relatively minor soft tissue contusion that quickly resolved itself with no permanent effect, and that it was not the main focus of that particular office visit. Dr. Fisher, who examined the claimant at the respondents’ request, thought that the claimant had bilateral chondromalacia, and that he did not injure his left knee because of his back injuries. The commissioner accepted that testimony, and concluded that the claimant had failed to prove his claim of a compensable knee injury. The claimant has appealed that decision.1

The claimant argues that the trial commissioner erred by crediting the opinion of Dr. Fisher over that of Dr. Matza. He reminds us that Dr. Matza was the treating physician, and that his opinion should thus have been given special weight. This is especially true, he argues, because there was no direct evidence to document that the falls did not occur as the claimant alleged, and Dr. Fisher relied upon mistaken assumptions regarding the absence of evidence of knee trauma in rendering his opinion.

It is well-established that the trial commissioner is the individual charged with determining the facts of a workers’ compensation case, and in particular the degree of credibility to assign to the opinion of a witness or an item to be placed in evidence. Six v. Thomas O’Connor & Co., 235 Conn. 790, 798 (1996); Adzima v. UAC/Norden Division, 177 Conn. 107, 117-18 (1979); Webb v. Pfizer, Inc., 14 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 69, 70, 1859 CRB-5-93-9 (May 12, 1995). There are few circumstances where this board can say that a medical expert’s opinion is unreliable as a matter of law. Desrosier v. Town of Newington, 3091 CRB-6-95-6 (decided Dec. 16, 1996). This is doubly true in cases such as this, where the commissioner has ruled that a claimant has failed to meet his burden of proof regarding the causal connection between a compensable injury and an allegedly related injury to a different body part. Even if the medical opinion that the commissioner relied upon were to be deemed unreliable on review, the commissioner would not have to give credence to a contrary medical opinion favoring the claimant.

In this case, Dr. Fisher testified that he examined the claimant and reviewed the transcripts of Dr. Matza’s deposition and the claimant’s testimony, as well as other records. Dr. Fisher noted that the type of chondromalacia that the claimant would have suffered from had it developed from a traumatic incident was inconsistent with the surgical procedure Dr. Matza performed on the claimant’s knee. (Respondent’s Exhibit D, p. 15-16). He also said that there was no mention in the treating physician’s records of numerous complaints of knee injuries by the claimant. Id., 13. Indeed, he believed that it would be very unusual for a back condition to cause repeated buckling of the knees. Id., 12. He also found it hard to accept that a patient who had repeatedly injured his knees would have failed to say something to his treating physician. Id., 28. Ultimately, he did not think it reasonably medically probable that the claimant’s knee condition had been caused in the manner alleged by the claimant. Id., 33.

Despite the impassioned argument of claimant’s counsel, we do not think that Dr. Fisher’s conclusions were drawn in a way that rendered his opinion unreasonable. Even discounting his reliance on the absence of past complaints of knee injuries, Dr. Fisher still examined the claimant and the type of surgery that was done on his knee, and based his opinion in part on those facts. In turn, we cannot say that the trial commissioner was forbidden from relying on Dr. Fisher’s opinion in making his findings. There is no statute or case in this state requiring a commissioner to credit the opinion of a treating physician over that of an independent medical examiner, and we are not inclined to create such a rule.

The trial commissioner’s decision is affirmed.

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

1 The claimant has also filed a Motion to Submit Additional Evidence dated May 6, 1996. In this motion, the claimant argues that he should be allowed to introduce expert testimony to contradict Dr. Fisher’s opinion, evidence of potential bias against Dr. Matza, and evidence regarding injuries to both knees rather than just the right knee. The claimant asserts that such evidence was unavailable at the time of the hearing. The claimant’s need for additional medical reports is simply a consequence of his failure to anticipate the nature of the contradictory evidence, however; there is no reason why the claimant could not have obtained additional medical evidence to bolster his claim before the record was closed. There is thus no “good reason” for failing to present such evidence in prior proceedings. See Admin. Reg. § 31-301-9. As for the offer of evidence regarding bias, the claimant has no concrete information to back up this claim at this time. We will not grant a motion to submit additional evidence where the claimant is unsure of what form, if any, such evidence will take. Allegations standing alone are not enough to warrant the reopening of a case on appeal. Consequently, the Motion to Submit Additional Evidence is denied. BACK TO TEXT

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