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Graves v. Town of Manchester

CASE NO. 3741 CRB-08-97-12

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

FEBRUARY 18, 1999

PATRICIA GRAVES

CLAIMANT-APPELLANT

v.

TOWN OF MANCHESTER

EMPLOYER

and

AON RISK SERVICES

INSURER

RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Bernard Poliner, Esq., Poliner, Poliner & Antin, P.C., 516 Main Street, Middletown CT 06457.

The respondents were represented by Brian Prindle, Esq., 72 Bissell Street, Manchester, CT 06040-5304.

This Petition for Review from the December 2, 1997 Finding and Dismissal of the Commissioner acting for the Eighth District was heard August 21, 1998 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman Jesse M. Frankl and Commissioners Michael S. Miles and Stephen B. Delaney.

OPINION

JESSE M. FRANKL, CHAIRMAN. The claimant has petitioned for review from the December 2, 1997 Finding and Dismissal of the Commissioner acting for the Eighth District. She argues on appeal that the trier erroneously found that he lacked jurisdiction over her claim because of a prior stipulation. We agree, and reverse the commissioner’s decision with direction that he address the merits of this case on remand.

The claimant has been a police officer with the Town of Manchester since 1966. She initially filed a § 7-433c heart and hypertension claim in 1987. A June 28, 1990 stipulation approval settled the claim for $75,000. The “Stipulation and Release” (see Claimant’s Exhibit A) stated:

Patricia Graves does for herself, her heirs and assigns, forever discharge the Town of Manchester, including employees and officers of the Town from any and all claims and causes of action under Section § 7-433c of the Connecticut General Statues, which she ever had, now has, or in the future may have against said Town related to her heart disease, as set forth in the second paragraph hereof, including recurrent episodes of atrial fibrillation and its direct sequelae, congestive heart failure, if due to atrial fibrillation, valvular disease, or if no other cause, is clearly identified, adverse affects of coumadin therapy and hypertension . . . and particularly all claims for legal costs and expenses incurred by herself or on her behalf in connection with proceedings to date or in the future before the Commissioner of Workers’ Compensation for the First District of Connecticut for a claim under Section § 7-433c or Chapter 568 arising out of her condition of heart disease, as set forth in the second paragraph hereof .”

The claimant proceeded to file another § 7-433c claim for hypertension with a May 1, 1994 date of injury. She alleges that this injury arose subsequent to the approval of the 1990 stipulation.

The trier found that the claimant was significantly “worked up” for a heart and hypertension condition in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, and that she continues to receive the same medication that she did prior to filing her 1994 claim. He ruled that the broad language of the 1990 stipulation, particularly its reference to hypertension, divested him of jurisdiction to consider this matter. The claimant has appealed that decision.

The claimant makes two arguments on appeal: that release by stipulation is an affirmative defense, not a jurisdictional issue, and that her claim is proper because her hypertension is a new condition unrelated to her previously diagnosed valvular condition. The respondents contend that the trier properly ruled that the stipulation covered the claimant, as there is no evidence that the claimant’s hypertension was brought on by events that occurred after the stipulation was approved. They also argue that, because § 7-433c requires the claimant to “begin with her condition at the time of hire,” this somehow prevents her from “skipping over” the language of the stipulation. Brief, p. 5-6.

We agree with the claimant’s observation that a release of liability via stipulation is an affirmative defense rather than a jurisdictional impediment to the action itself. New England Savings Bank v. FTN Properties Ltd. Partnership, 32 Conn. App. 143, 146 (1993). A stipulation that purports to settle a matter must be introduced as evidence by the party seeking to enforce its terms. The trier must then interpret the stipulation to ascertain whether it applies to the instant claim. However, as long as the trier accepts evidence regarding the applicability of the stipulation to the facts, describing a dismissal based on a settlement agreement as “jurisdictional” would amount to nothing more than a technical estrangement from the correct term of law.

In this case, the claimant alleged a claim that, on its face, would not be covered by the terms of the 1990 stipulation. In Muldoon v. Homestead Insulation Co., 231 Conn. 469 (1994), our Supreme Court explained that a stipulation that purports to close out all aspects of a claim cannot be interpreted to cover claims based on subsequent injuries or exposures, even if the same body part has been affected in both cases. Id.., 481-83. “Except in very rare instances, the settlement and release of a claim does not cover claims based on events that have not yet occurred. . . . [L]anguage covering ‘future claims’ and ‘unknown claims’ in releases is ordinarily construed to cover only inchoate claims that are in being at the time of release but which have not yet manifested themselves.” Id., 481-82; see Duni v. United Technologies Corp./Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Division, 239 Conn. 19 (1996) (claim for survivor’s benefits dismissed because disabling occupational injury was the subject of a stipulation releasing all resultant claims, including death).

The claimant here contended that her injury occurred after the approval of her stipulation. She introduced medical reports into evidence that describe her hypertension condition as a new illness that is unrelated to her previous cardiac condition. See Claimant’s Exhibits B, C. From the Finding and Dismissal, it does not appear that the trier evaluated the credibility of these reports; instead, he appears to have dismissed the claim based on the terms of the stipulation alone. Pursuant to Muldoon and the language of the June 28, 1990 stipulation, the trial commissioner should have determined whether the claimant (a) suffered from hypertension (b) that was compensable under § 7-433c, and (c) was unrelated to her previous heart disease. If, in fact, the trier were to conclude that the claimant suffers from hypertension that is unrelated to her rheumatic heart disease and mitral stenosis, the stipulation would not preclude her from seeking benefits under § 7-433c.

We find no merit in the respondents’ assertion that statutory distinctions between § 7-433c and the provisions of Chapter 568 preclude the claimant from seeking compensation for her alleged injury. The claimant must indeed demonstrate that she did not suffer from hypertension at the time she was hired as a prerequisite to her receipt of benefits under § 7-433c. However, the fact that she entered into a stipulation in 1990 settling potential hypertension claims that may have or did arise from her rheumatic heart disease in no way affects her legal right to seek compensation for hypertension that allegedly arose from repetitive trauma that occurred after 1990. The interjection of language regarding hypertension into that stipulation has no legally preclusive effect on her right to seek benefits under § 7-433c.

Accordingly, we reverse the trial commissioner’s decision. The case is remanded, and the trier is requested to evaluate the merits of the claimant’s claim consistent with the principles of Muldoon, supra, and this opinion.

Commissioners Michael S. Miles and Stephen B. Delaney concur.

Workers’ Compensation Commission

Page last revised: April 8, 2005

Page URL: http://wcc.state.ct.us/crb/1999/3741crb.htm

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