State of Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission, John A. Mastropietro, Chairman
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O’Neill v. City of Danbury

CASE NO. 3510 CRB-07-97-01

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

MARCH 31, 1998

ROBERT O’NEILL

CLAIMANT-APPELLANT

v.

CITY OF DANBURY

EMPLOYER

SELF-INSURED

RESPONDENT-APPELLEE

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by George Springer, Jr., Esq., 99 West Main Street, New Britain, CT 06051.

The respondents were represented by Thomas G. Parisot, Esq., Secor, Cassidy & McPartland, 41 Church St., P. O. Box 2818, Waterbury, CT 06723-2818.

This Petition for Review from the December 26, 1996 Finding and Order of the Commissioner acting for the Seventh District was heard September 5, 1997 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman Jesse M. Frankl and Commissioners John A. Mastropietro and Stephen B. Delaney.

OPINION

JESSE M. FRANKL, CHAIRMAN. The claimant has petitioned for review from the December 26, 1996 Finding and Order of the Commissioner acting for the Seventh District. He argues on appeal that the trial commissioner erred by ordering the respondent to provide him with $10,000 in life insurance under § 31-284b and § 7-433c C.G.S, instead of a greater amount. We affirm the trial commissioner’s decision.

The trial commissioner took administrative notice of a May 19, 1987 Finding and Award that found the claimant’s § 7-433c claim compensable. The claimant suffered a myocardial infarction on March 29, 1985. The Danbury Police Pension Board found him to be permanently disabled on June 31, 1986, and granted him a disability pension. He has also been receiving workers’ compensation benefits since he retired on July 15, 1986.

On the date of his injury, the claimant and other police officers of his rank were entitled to a $10,000 life insurance policy, as per a collective bargaining agreement with the city of Danbury. By the time his retirement date arrived, that amount had increased to $27,000. On December 20, 1994, the claimant requested that his coverage be increased from $27,000 to $45,000, which was the amount of coverage that the claimant would have been entitled to at that time had he remained an active member of the police force. The issue at trial was whether § 31-284b required the employer to provide the claimant with the life insurance coverage in effect on the date of his injury, or life insurance coverage comparable to that which a police officer of the claimant’s rank currently receives. The trial commissioner concluded that § 31-284b and § 7-433c only entitled the claimant to the amount of life insurance coverage that was in effect on the date of his injury, i.e., $10,000. The claimant has appealed that decision.

Normally, the obligations of an employer to an employee under the Workers’ Compensation Act are fixed and determined by the statutes in force at the time of the injury. Gil v. Courthouse One, 239 Conn. 676, 685-86 (1997), citing Iacomacci v. Trumbull, 209 Conn. 219, 222 (1988). At the time of the claimant’s injury, § 31-284b(a) provided, in relevant part, that “[i]n order to maintain, as nearly as possible, the income of employees who suffer employment-related injuries, any employer, . . . who provides accident and health insurance or life insurance coverage for any employee . . . shall provide to such employee equivalent insurance coverage . . . while the employee is eligible to receive or is receiving workers’ compensation payments pursuant to this chapter . . . .”1 Section 7-433c entitled a regular member of a paid police department who suffered an impairment of health caused by hypertension or heart disease to receive “from his municipal employer compensation and medical care in the same amount and the same manner as that provided under chapter 568 . . . and from the municipal or state retirement system under which he is covered, . . . the same retirement or survivor benefits which would be paid under said system if such death or disability was caused by a personal injury which . . . was suffered in the line of duty.” Both of these statutes are applicable to the instant case.

The claimant essentially argues that the purpose of § 31-284 is to keep a claimant’s insurance coverage at the same level as that provided for active employees, and that the purpose of § 7-433c is to protect police officers from economic loss by placing them in the same situation as similarly situated but active officers. As such, he concludes that his life insurance benefits should be at the same level as active Danbury police officers of similar rank. We disagree with this analysis.

Section 31-284 makes no mention of the wage rate or benefit level of someone currently working at the claimant’s former job, a la § 31-308(a),2 for example. It simply states that employers are required to provide to an employee eligible for workers’ compensation equivalent insurance coverage to that which was previously provided to the claimant. This board has held in past cases that the extent of § 31-284 benefits is fixed at the time of the claimant’s compensable injury, as are all other benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Distiso v. Town of Southington, 16 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 93, 94, 3073 CRB-6-95-6 (Nov. 13, 1996); Leroux v. United Parcel Service, 9 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 101,, 102, 937 CRD-7-89-11 (March 7, 1991), citing Chieppo v. Robert E. McMichael, Inc., 169 Conn. 646, 649 (1975). We cannot perceive any reason to abandon that precedent in this case. This includes the existence of the § 7-433b(b) cap, which creates a ceiling for the amount of cumulative benefits payable for workers’ compensation and retirement under § 7-433c, but does not actually define the benefits to which a claimant is entitled. See Carriero v. Naugatuck, 243 Conn. 747 (1998); Lundgren v. Stratford, 12 Conn. App. 138, 244-45 (1987).

Thus, § 31-284b only entitles the claimant to the amount of life insurance he was receiving at the time he suffered his heart attack. This is not to say that the claimant is prohibited from receiving a greater amount of life insurance under his disability retirement agreement. See Transcript, p. 5-7. He may be entitled to more than $10,000 under that contract. However, this commission does not have jurisdiction over that issue. See Lundgren, supra, 148-49; Boulay v. Waterbury, 27 Conn. App. 483, 486-87 (1992).

The trial commissioner’s decision is affirmed.

Commissioners John A. Mastropietro and Stephen B. Delaney concur.

1 This statute was declared unconstitutional as applied to private employers because of federal preemption by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, but is still applicable to state and municipal employees. See Civardi v. Norwich, 231 Conn. 287 n. 12 (1994). BACK TO TEXT

2 § 31-308(a) calculates temporary partial disability benefits by comparing “the wages currently earned by an employee in a position comparable to the position held by the injured employee before his injury” with the amount the claimant is able to earn after the injury. BACK TO TEXT

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