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Reeder v. Zohne Industries

CASE NO. 3313 CRB-5-96-3

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

AUGUST 21, 1997

PAUL REEDER

CLAIMANT-APPELLANT

v.

ZOHNE INDUSTRIES

EMPLOYER

and

AETNA LIFE & CASUALTY

INSURER

RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES

APPEARANCES:

The claimant appeared pro se on appeal.

The respondents went forth on their briefs. Notice sent to Richard T. Stabnick, Esq., Pomeranz, Drayton & Stabnick, 95 Glastonbury Blvd., Glastonbury, CT 06033-4412.

This Petition for Review from the March 15, 1996 Finding and Dismissal of the Commissioner acting for the Third District was heard December 13, 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 pro se claimant has petitioned for review from the March 15, 1996 Finding and Dismissal of the Commissioner acting for the Fourth District. He has filed a motion to submit additional evidence, and also argues on appeal that the trial commissioner erred by dismissing his claim.

Whenever someone files a workers’ compensation claim, he has to prove that he experienced an injury “arising out of and in the course of his employment.” Section 31-284(a) C.G.S. This means that the claimant has to convince the trial commissioner that he was injured. He must also show that the injury, or the exposure (such as chemical exposure) that the claimant thinks caused the injury, occurred at work while he was doing a job-related task. See Masko v. Town of Wallingford Board of Education, 3225 CRB-6-95-12 (decided Jan. 24, 1997). Therefore, part of the burden that this places on the claimant is the burden of proving that the injury itself was actually caused by something he did or encountered while he was performing his job duties.

Sometimes it is easy to tell that an injury occurred at work, like when a claimant falls off a ladder and breaks a bone. In many cases, however, the only way for the claimant to prove that his disability arose out of his employment is by expert medical testimony. Murchison v. Skinner Precision Industries, Inc., 162 Conn. 142, 151 (1972). This is true in the case before us here. The claimant is trying to prove that his body rash was caused by either or both his work gloves and/or a substance, perhaps an oil, that he was exposed to while he worked as a machine operator at Zohne Industries. The respondents have not accepted this claim and paid benefits because they do not think that the claimant has enough proof to establish his case. For the claimant to win, he must first introduce enough evidence to convince the commissioner that it is more likely than not that his skin rash was caused by exposure to chemicals at work. In order to do that, he has to provide at least one doctor’s report that provides a medical basis for saying that his rash is probably related to his employment. See Struckman v. Burns, 205 Conn. 542, 554-55 (1987).

We have looked at all of the evidence that the claimant offered in support of his claim, as well as the transcript of the formal hearing. There is no doubt that he suffers from a skin condition, which most of his doctors identify as contact dermatitis. (See Claimant’s Exhibits A, B, J.) However, none of the doctors ever said that they believed his condition was probably caused by chemical exposure at work.

One physician said that the claimant’s rash was an allergic reaction that “may or may not be secondary to syphilis,” (Dr. Gould’s report, Exhibit A); another said that it was of “unclear etiology,” (Dr. Acampora’s report, Exhibit J); two reports from a third doctor did not attempt to explain its cause at all (Dr. Janiszewksi’s reports, Exhibits A, J); while a fourth noted the history that the claimant provided, but said that he was “uncertain as to the origin of this dermatitis.” (Dr. Watsky’s report, Exhibit B). None of these medical opinions offer a solid link between the claimant’s employment and his dermatitic condition. Even though the respondents offered no evidence of their own to dispute this claim, the reports that the claimant introduced into evidence do not give strong enough opinions to allow the commissioner to make a finding that the claimant’s dermatitis is probably related to his job.1 Therefore, the trier did not commit legal error when he dismissed the claimant’s claim for benefits due to a lack of sufficient proof.

The claimant mentioned at oral argument that the commissioner did not allow him to call a representative of Zohne Industries to testify as a witness. After reviewing the transcript and other items in the record, we are unable to find any evidence in said proceedings where the claimant indicated that he wanted to examine anyone as a witness, much less a denial of such a request. (See February 12, 1996 Transcript.) In fact, the trial commissioner offered considerable guidance and leeway to the claimant because he was representing himself, and did not have an attorney.

As for the claimant’s allegation that the respondents refused to give him the safety data sheets from Zohne Industries, we likewise cannot find any portion of the record where the claimant indicates that he tried to get that information and the respondents turned him down. The closest thing to a request for data sheets is a line in Dr. Watsky’s report that says “I would also be happy to review any material safety data sheets that you might obtain.” (Exhibit B.) However, the claimant has not shown that either he or the doctor ever tried to obtain that evidence before the formal hearing occurred. For that reason, we cannot grant the claimant’s request to submit such a report as additional evidence on appeal. See Admin. Reg. § 31-301-9 C.G.S. It does not appear that he was deprived of any of his rights during his prosecution of this workers’ compensation claim. We therefore have no reason to suspect that an error occurred in this case.

The trial commissioner’s decision is affirmed.

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

1 The claimant asked in his response to the trier’s decision why the trial commissioner accepted his exhibits if he did not think they had any merit. As a general rule, the trier of a case will admit into evidence any item offered by a party as long as it is relevant to the case. Most of the documents that the claimant offered as evidence were relevant to his claim. However, just because evidence has some bearing on the legally important facts of a case does not mean that it carries enough weight to prove the case. The commissioner accepted the claimant’s evidence so he could consider it in making his decision. He would not have been allowed to even look at anything that was not in the record. After reviewing that evidence, however, he decided that there was not enough proof for the claimant to prevail on his claim. BACK TO TEXT

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