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Mancini v. Allied Signal Aerospace Co.

CASE NO. 3565 CRB-05-97-03

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

JUNE 2, 1998

ROSA MANCINI

CLAIMANT-APPELLEE

v.

ALLIED SIGNAL AEROSPACE CO.

EMPLOYER

and

TRAVELERS INSURANCE CO.

INSURER

RESPONDENTS-APPELLANTS

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Ross Lessack, Esq., Dodd, Lessack, Ranando & Dalton, L.L.C., 700 West Johnson Ave., Cheshire, CT 06410.

The respondents were represented by Michael J. Finn, Esq., Montstream & May, 655 Winding Brook Drive, Glastonbury, CT 06033.

This Petition for Review from the March 17, 1997 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Fifth District was heard November 21, 1997 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman Jesse M. Frankl and Commissioners James J. Metro and Stephen B. Delaney.

OPINION

JESSE M. FRANKL, CHAIRMAN. The respondents have petitioned for review from the March 17, 1997 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Fifth District. They argue on appeal that the trial commissioner erred by finding that the claimant was entitled to a little under ten months of combined temporary partial and temporary total disability benefits. We affirm the trial commissioner’s decision.

The claimant suffered a compensable injury to her right ankle and right shoulder on January 17, 1990, and a second compensable injury to her right ankle on May 19, 1992. She continued to work after the second injury, but was laid off ten days later. She began seeing Dr. Bonaccorsi, who had treated her for the first injury, on June 1, 1992, and he disabled her from work for approximately one month before returning her to modified work on July 6, 1992. The claimant continued to treat, however, for right foot pain, and the emergency room physicians at Waterbury Hospital diagnosed her with possible reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) on August 3, 1992.

Dr. Beaumont, an orthopedist, saw the claimant numerous times afterward. Initially, he did not see any evidence of either a fracture or RSD, and found the claimant to be capable of sedentary work. By April 1993, though, he began to grow concerned that the claimant might really be developing RSD, and sent her to Dr. Eisen, a neurologist. Dr. Eisen found possible RSD and recommended treatment at Gaylord Hospital, with which course of treatment Dr. Beaumont concurred. The claimant was totally disabled by Dr. Beaumont from July 22, 1993 onward, and underwent a pain management and rehabilitative treatment program at Gaylord Hospital between August 3 and December 30, 1993. Several doctors subsequently examined the claimant, and offered somewhat conflicting testimony regarding her symptoms and diagnosis.

The trial commissioner determined that the claimant was temporarily totally disabled from March 8, 1993 to July 22, 1993 in accordance with Dr. Beaumont’s restrictions, and totally disabled from July 23, 1993 to December 30, 1993, when her treatment at Gaylord Hospital was concluded and she reached maximum medical improvement. All subsequent treatment was ruled palliative and noncompensable, as was the claimant’s claim for continuing total disability. The respondents have appealed that decision.

The respondents’ argument on appeal is that the claimant did not offer sufficient medical evidence to demonstrate that her disability and treatment were causally related to her compensable injuries. The respondents attack the soundness and clarity of the medical opinions of Dr. Beaumont and Dr. Lichter in their brief, stating that the aforementioned doctors diagnosed RSD “by exclusion only.” Brief, p. 35. They also contend that the trial commissioner erred in denying their Motion to Correct, which offered facts that were both material and undisputed, and sought to correct other facts that were found without evidence.

The determination of whether or not an injury or disability is causally related to a claimant’s employment is a factual one that must be made by the trial commissioner. Fair v. People’s Savings Bank, 207 Conn. 535, 541 (1988). It is the commissioner who has the authority to find the facts and determine the credibility of witnesses, including the reports of physicians and other medical experts. Kish v. Nursing & Home Care, Inc., 47 Conn. App. 620, 627 (1998); Webb v. Pfizer, Inc., 14 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 69, 70, 1859 CRB-5-93-9 (May 12, 1995). The trier of fact is entitled to weigh the credibility of all medical opinions, uncontradicted or not, in reaching a decision. Jusiewicz v. Reliance Automotive, 3140 CRB-6-95-8 (decided Jan. 24, 1997). Unless the trial commissioner has abused his discretion by making findings that have no basis in the evidence, this board cannot override those findings on review. Id.; Benlock v. New Haven Terminal/Cilco Terminal, 3034 CRB-4-95-4 (decided April 25, 1997). Corrections to the findings need not be granted if they are based upon decisions of evidentiary credibility, or if they would not be likely to change the outcome of the case. Kish, supra; Webb, supra, 71.

Dr. Beaumont, the claimant’s treating physician, testified that the claimant’s sprained ankle at work led to her symptoms of RSD. Beaumont Deposition, p. 11. He explained that RSD is a difficult diagnosis to make, because it is a diagnosis of exclusion—that is, it is diagnosed by eliminating all other causes. Id., 20-21. He stated that, until the claimant had been seen at Gaylord regarding the possibility of RSD, she was temporarily totally disabled. Id., 24. He stated that RSD was still the only diagnosis he could make to explain the claimant’s symptoms, based upon a reasonable degree of medical probability. Id., 29-30. Dr. Lichter offered testimony that also supported the relationship between the claimant’s compensable injuries and her symptoms of RSD, which was his diagnosis in this case. Lichter Deposition, p. 28-29.

The respondents state in their brief that “if one discounts the confusing opinions of Dr. Beaumont and Dr. Lichter, and adopts [the] opinion of Dr. Wetmore, it is clear that the claimant could have worked from 11/92 to the present.” Brief, p. 22. This, ultimately, is the crux of this case. The trial commissioner was not legally required to find the opinions of Drs. Beaumont and Lichter too confusing to be relevant. Our review of those medical opinions shows that a legitimate question of fact existed with regard to the credibility of that evidence. See Kish, supra; Jusiewicz, supra. Dr. Beaumont explained the basis for his diagnosis of RSD in a satisfactory manner, and the commissioner was free to rely on his opinion if he found it believable. This board does not have the authority to step in on review and declare the opinions of Drs. Beaumont and Lichter less credible than those of Drs. Wetmore, Kaplan, Gossling and Rubinstein. We can only review the contested evidence (which clearly supports the commissioner’s findings) to determine whether a reasonable trier of fact could have found it credible.

The respondents presented to the commissioner their argument that the claimant’s symptoms were caused by psychological factors. He did not credit that argument. It is not within the purview of this board on review to declare his assessment of the evidence unsound. The respondents’ lengthy brief is essentially an attempt to convince this board that the medical opinions of Drs. Beaumont and Lichter were not convincing, and that Dr. Rubinstein’s explanation of the claimant’s symptomology was the only reasonable explanation for her disability. We, however, are not the triers of fact in this case. The trial commissioner has already performed that function in a satisfactory manner.

We thus affirm the trial commissioner’s decision. Insofar as any amounts due the claimant have not been paid pending appeal, interest is awarded pursuant to § 31-301c(b).

Commissioners James J. Metro and Stephen B. Delaney concur.

Workers’ Compensation Commission

Page last revised: June 29, 2005

Page URL: http://wcc.state.ct.us/crb/1998/3565crb.htm

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