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Eaton v. Main Heating & Cooling Service

CASE NO. 3473 CRB-03-96-11

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

JANUARY 30, 1998

ROBERT EATON

CLAIMANT-APPELLEE

v.

MAIN HEATING & COOLING SERVICE

EMPLOYER

and

NORTH RIVER INSURANCE CO.

RESPONDENTS-APPELLANTS

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Steven Regula, Esq., Lasala, Walsh & Wicklow, 168 Bradley St., P.O. Box 1302, New Haven, CT 06505-1302.

The respondents were represented by Joanne D. Chiulli, Esq., Montstream & May, 655 Winding Brook Dr., P.O. Box 1087, Glastonbury, CT 06033-6087.

This Petition for Review from the November 25, 1996 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Third District was heard May 9, 1997 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman Jesse M. Frankl and Commissioners James J. Metro and Amado J. Vargas.

OPINION

JESSE M. FRANKL, CHAIRMAN. The respondents have petitioned for review from the November 25, 1996 Finding and Award of the trial commissioner acting for the Third District. In that decision, the trial commissioner concluded that the claimant’s motor vehicle accident on August 25, 1995 arose out of and in the course of his employment. Specifically, the trial commissioner found that the employer had provided the claimant with a company vehicle as a condition of his employment and that the use of the vehicle was incidental to his employment. In support of the appeal, the respondents contend that the accident did not arise out of and in the course of the employment because it occurred while the claimant was driving to his house after the end of his work day. We affirm the trial commissioner.

The trial commissioner made the following relevant findings of fact. The claimant was employed with the employer as a maintenance and repair service technician, which required him to go to various locations at the direction of the employer. Approximately three to four weeks prior to August 25, 1995, the employer gave the claimant use of a company-owned vehicle. The employer paid for gasoline, repairs, and insurance. The claimant used this vehicle for transportation to and from work and from job site to job site during the work day. The claimant testified that he did not use this vehicle for personal use. At the start of each work day, the claimant reported to the employer’s place of business, where he would receive his assignments for the day. At the completion of the work day, however, the claimant was not required to report to the employer’s place of business. On August 25, 1995, the claimant completed his last assignment at 5:15 P.M. and proceeded directly home. During the claimant’s trip home, at approximately 5:39 P.M. the company-owned vehicle was struck from behind by another vehicle.

“An injury is said to arise out of the employment when (a) it occurs in the course of the employment and (b) is the result of a risk involved in the employment or incident to it or the conditions under which it is required to be performed.” Tovish v. Gerber Electronics, 32 Conn. App. 595, 607 (1993), affirmed, 229 Conn. 587 (1994), quoting Dombach v. Olkon Corporation, 163 Conn. 216, 221-22 (1972). An injury occurring on a public highway while going to or from work is ordinarily not compensable. Dombach, supra, at 222. However, in Dombach, supra, our Supreme Court set out four specific exceptions from this general rule, including either “where the employer contracts to furnish or does furnish transportation to and from work” or “where the employee is injured while using the highway in doing something incidental to his regular employment, for the joint benefit of himself and his employer, with the knowledge and approval of the employer.” Id.

In support of their appeal, the respondents contend that the employer-provided vehicle constituted a “privilege” to the claimant but did not constitute a joint benefit to the employer, and thus the use of the vehicle should not be considered to be incidental to his employment. We disagree that the issue of “joint benefit” is determinative, as the record supports the determination that the employer-provided vehicle constituted the “furnishing of transportation” to the claimant which constitutes a separate exception. See Dombach, supra. Moreover, the trial commissioner was entitled to infer from the facts found that the provision of the vehicle constituted a joint benefit to both the claimant1 and the employer. Specifically, prior to providing this vehicle to the claimant, the employer had been paying the claimant for the time he spent loading his tools into a company van each day. (Findings No. 11-13).

Furthermore, a reasonable inference may be made, based upon the trial commissioner’s findings, that the claimant’s use of the vehicle to drive home at the end of the work day on August 25, 1995, was made with the approval of the employer. (See Findings No. 7 and 14). In contrast, we have held that an accident with an employer-provided vehicle did not arise out of or in the course of the employment where the claimant was on a “personal recreational trip” which did not benefit the employer. Clark v. Gates GMC Truck, Inc., 12 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 263, 1528 CRB-8-92-10 (June 2, 1994); see also Luddie v. Foremost Insurance Co., 2 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 30, 220 CRD-6-83 (Sept. 9, 1983), aff’d., 5 Conn. App. 193 (1985). In the instant case, the conclusions of the trial commissioner from the facts found did not result from incorrect applications of law or from inferences illegally or unreasonably drawn from those facts, and thus those conclusions must stand. Fair v. People’s Savings Bank, 207 Conn. 535, 539 (1988).

In further support of their appeal, the respondents contend that the trial commissioner erred in failing to find that at the time of the accident the claimant was proceeding directly home, and that he was not paid for this travel time. We find no error in the trial commissioner’s denial of the respondents’ Motion to Correct. A Motion to Correct may be properly denied where the corrections are immaterial because the outcome of the case would not be altered by the substituted findings. Knoblaugh v. Greenwood Health Center, 13 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 150, 152, 1608 CRB-1-92-12 (Feb. 6, 1995); Plitnick v. Knoll Pharmaceuticals, 13 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 26, 28, 1699 CRB-8-93-4 (Nov. 7, 1994). The trial commissioner did in fact find that the claimant was proceeding directly home after completing his last assignment on August 25, 1995. (Finding No. 14). Furthermore, the trial commissioner did not make a finding that the claimant was paid for such travel time. Accordingly, it is reasonable to assume that the respondents’ proposed findings would not alter the trial commissioner’s decision in the instant case.

Finally, the respondents contend that the claimant failed to provide medical evidence that he sustained injuries to his neck and back due to the accident at issue. We find no merit to this argument, as the only issue considered during the formal hearing was whether the accident arose out of and in the course of his employment. The trial commissioner stated in his decision that the respondents were responsible for medical expenses for any injuries which the claimant “may have experienced as a result of the motor vehicle accident” thereby leaving that issue for a future determination in the event that an agreement is not reached by the parties. (Finding E, emphasis added).

The trial commissioner’s decision is affirmed.

Commissioners James J. Metro and Amado J. Vargas concur.

1 Certainly, the provision of the vehicle, along with gas, insurance, and repair costs made by the employer, constituted a benefit to the claimant. BACK TO TEXT

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