State of Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission, John A. Mastropietro, Chairman
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Masko v. Town of Wallingford Board of Education

CASE NO. 3225 CRB-6-95-12

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

JANUARY 24, 1997

DENISE MASKO, (Dependent Widow of ANDREW MASKO)

CLAIMANT-APPELLEE

v.

TOWN OF WALLINGFORD BOARD OF EDUCATION

EMPLOYER

and

ALEXSIS, INC.

SELF-INSURED ADMINISTRATOR

RESPONDENT-APPELLANT

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by James L. Pomeranz, Esq., Pomeranz, Drayton & Stabnick, 95 Glastonbury Blvd., Glastonbury, CT 06033.

The respondent was represented by James M. Quinn, Esq., Furniss & Quinn, P.C., 248 Hudson St., Hartford, CT 06101-1777.

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

This Petition for Review from the December 1, 1995 Findings of Facts and Award of Compensation of the Commissioner acting for the Sixth District was heard June 28, 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 Town of Wallingford Board of Education (Board of Education) has petitioned for review from the December 1, 1995 Findings of Facts and Award of Compensation by the Commissioner acting for the Sixth District. The Town argues that the commissioner erred by finding that the claimant’s decedent suffered a fatal heart attack that arose out of and in the course of his employment. After further review, we affirm the trial commissioner’s decision.

The decedent , Andrew Masko, was employed by the Board of Education as its business manager on May 10, 1993. He had been working at that job ever since his predecessor was fired in 1990. The predecessor sought to regain his position through arbitration, and was able to convince an arbitrator to overturn the town’s decision to fire him. The town then appealed the arbitrator’s decision to Superior Court. This situation had been worrying the decedent for many months prior to May 1993, and he had often expressed frustration at having to belong to a union that negotiated his wages, benefits, and terms of employment. The collective bargaining agreement that covered his position had expired in June 1992. Negotiations between the union and the Board of Education had failed, and the parties had to resort to binding arbitration. The arbitration process was also very upsetting to the decedent, who had repeatedly expressed anxiety about it.

On May 10, 1993, the fourth arbitration hearing between the union and the Board of Education was conducted on town premises at Sheehan High School. The session occurred during regular business hours, as per the town’s custom. The decedent voluntarily attended that hearing with his employer’s permission and approval, for which time he was paid. He also made a protracted speech at the hearing. During the negotiations following that speech, the decedent collapsed due to a ventricular arrythmia of his heart, and could not be resuscitated. He died that day. Two cardiologists opined that the emotional stress of the hearing was superimposed upon preexisting mitral valve prolapse syndrome, which led to the decedent’s ventricular arrythmia. The commissioner accepted those diagnoses, and awarded benefits to the decedent’s presumptive dependent widow and children. The Board of Education has appealed that decision.

The respondent does not take issue on appeal with the causal relationship between the decedent’s ventricular arrythmia and the emotional stress placed on him by the May 10, 1993 arbitration hearing, although it did unsuccessfully seek a correction to the findings that would have eliminated the commissioner’s mention of other work stressors besides that hearing as figuring into the causal equation. (For the record, the decedent’s wife testified that events at work preceding the arbitration hearing had placed great stress on her husband, and it was not error for the commissioner to infer that they contributed to his overall stress.) The respondent instead argues that the decedent’s attendance at the arbitration hearing was as a union representative and for his personal benefit, and that he was consequently not acting within the scope of his employment when he was stricken.

In order to establish a causal connection between an injury and his employment, a claimant must establish that his alleged injury arose out of and in the course of his employment. McNamara v. Hamden, 176 Conn. 547, 556 (1979). The time, place and circumstances of an injury dictate whether it arises out of the employment, while proof that the injury has occurred in the course of employment requires it to have happened within the employment period, at a place the employee may reasonably be, and while the employee is reasonably fulfilling employment duties or doing something incidental to them. Crochiere v. Board of Education, 227 Conn. 333, 349-50 (1993); Id., 550-51. The determination of whether an injury arises out of and in the course of a claimant’s job is primarily a question of fact for the trial commissioner. Fair v. People’s Savings Bank, 207 Conn. 535, 539 (1988).

Recently, our Supreme Court was confronted with a case in which the claimant was injured when she fell on a sidewalk while walking back to work from a union meeting that had been held during her unpaid lunch break. Spatafore v. Yale University, 239 Conn. 408 (1996). The court stated that attendance at a union meeting had traditionally been viewed as a benefit solely for the employee, even if it were held on the employer’s premises. Id., 422. However, recent cases have held that a union activity could simultaneously serve employee and employer interests, depending on the nature of the particular activity that the employee was performing when injured. Id., 422-23, citing Caterpillar Tractor Co. v. Shook, 313 N.W.2d 503, 507 (Iowa 1981); Salierno v. Micro Stamping Co., 345 A.2d 342 (1975) (compensation awarded when employee, the shop steward, suffered heart attack while negotiating labor contract).

The court discussed in detail a New Hampshire case in which a union representative’s injuries sustained at a union-employer negotiating session were compensated, as the union activity had been of mutual benefit to the employer and employee. New England Telephone Co. v. Ames, 474 A.2d 571 (1984). “The existence of a labor contract plays a significant role in preventing industrial strife and unrest. It also promotes the uninterrupted operation of an enterprise. . . . Such consequences of negotiations are of benefit to the employer.” Spatafore, supra, 424, quoting Ames, supra. The court then contrasted a case in which an employee who voluntarily attended a union-sponsored picnic was held not to be acting in the course of her employment, as the benefit to the employer from such a picnic was too remote to be recognized. Williams v. State, 152 Conn. 692 (1965).

In Spatafore, the court ultimately upheld this board’s decision that the claimant should not be compensated, as the record did not support the commissioner’s finding that the union meeting had benefited both sides. The court said that while provisions in the collective bargaining agreement allowing the union to make reasonable use of university facilities for meetings and advertising and providing for grievance and arbitration procedures “may be laudatory, they are insufficient to establish the requisite mutual benefit. The general desire to increase productivity and enhance employer-employee relations does not create a mutual benefit at every union meeting whenever and wherever held, regardless of the agenda and despite the prohibition of employer attendance.” Id., 426. Although negotiation and agreement may generally be activities of mutual benefit, there was nothing in the record to show that either had occurred at the union meeting in issue; in fact, only union representatives had been in attendance there.

The facts of this case differ materially from those in Spatafore, and are much closer to the facts of the Ames and Salierno cases favorably cited in the Supreme Court’s opinion (see supra). The decedent suffered his heart arrythmia on premises owned by the employer, not on a privately-owned sidewalk. The decedent, as a salaried employee, was being paid during the time he attended the arbitration hearing, as opposed to being on an unpaid break. The employer had designated the site of the hearing, rather than the union itself. Most importantly, however, the proceeding in question was not a members-only union meeting, but an arbitration session adjutant to negotiations between the Board of Education and the union. Even though the decedent was not acting as an official union representative at the arbitration session, the session directly affected his job and its terms, and he was appropriately allowed to attend and speak at the negotiations.

Whether or not a strike or a work stoppage could potentially have occurred under state law (see § 7-475 C.G.S.), both the employer and employees benefited from the resolution of their bargaining impasse through mandatory final arbitration. See, e.g., § 7-473c(d) (the two sides share the cost of the arbitration panel required by the statute); Spatafore, supra, 424. Arbitration procedures are intended to resolve disputes that affect both management and worker, regardless of which side is seeking to gain from the raising of a particular issue. Accordingly, we do not believe that the commissioner’s findings were insufficient to support his conclusion that the decedent’s ventricular arrythmia arose out of and in the course of his employment.

The trial commissioner’s decision is affirmed. If any accrued benefits have yet to be paid, the respondent is ordered to pay interest on them pursuant to § 31-301c(b).

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

Workers’ Compensation Commission

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