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Card v. State of Connecticut Gateway Community Technical College

CASE NO. 3745 CRB-03-97-12

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

FEBRUARY 23, 1999

PATRICIA R. CARD

CLAIMANT-APPELLANT

v.

STATE OF CONNECTICUT GATEWAY COMMUNITY TECHNICAL COLLEGE

EMPLOYER

RESPONDENT-APPELLEE

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Edward Piazza, Esq., Del Sole & Del Sole, 900 Chapel Street, P.O. Box 405, New Haven, CT 06502-0405.

The respondent was represented by Philip M. Schulz, Esq., Office of the Attorney General, P.O. Box 120, 55 Elm Street, Hartford, CT 06141-0120.

This Petition for Review from the December 5, 1997 Finding and Dismissal of the Commissioner acting for the Third 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 5, 1997 Finding and Dismissal of the Commissioner acting for the Third District. In that decision the trial commissioner concluded that the claimant’s injury on March 6, 1995, which occurred while the claimant was hanging her coat immediately prior to the start of the work day, did not arise out of and in the course of her employment. The trial commissioner concluded that the act of hanging up her coat was a personal activity which was not “incidental” to the claimant’s employment. In support of her appeal, the claimant contends that the facts as found by the trial commissioner support the conclusion that the claimant’s injury arose out of and in the course of the employment.

The trial commissioner found the following relevant facts. The claimant was employed as a school teacher by the respondent employer. The claimant’s work hours were 9:30 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. (10/14/97 TR. at p. 5). On March 6, 1995, the claimant reported to work at approximately 9:20 A.M. and went to an area referred to as the “isolation room.” The claimant testified that when she was hired she was told to hang her coat in the isolation room. When the claimant entered the isolation room she put her purse and coat down and went to the ladies room. When she returned she picked up her coat and turned to put it on the coat rack when she felt something snap in her back and felt pain in her back. The uncontradicted evidence indicates that the claimant immediately notified her supervisor regarding the injury. (Id. at p. 9). At the time of her injury the claimant had not yet commenced her teaching duties that day.

The employer contested the claim on the basis that the injury occurred prior to the start of the claimant’s work day and that she was performing a personal task which was not incidental to her employment. In support of her appeal, the claimant contends that the use of the coat rack was a permitted activity which was incidental to her employment. The claimant further contends that the coat rack was provided by the employer as a mutual benefit to both the employer and the employee.

Whether the trier erred in finding that the claimant’s injury arose out of and in the course of the employment requires a factual determination which we will not disturb unless it is found without evidence, contrary to law or based on unreasonable or impermissible factual inferences. Fair v. People’s Savings Bank, 207 Conn. 535 (1988). Moreover,

It is well settled that “[i]n order to come within the course of the employment, an injury must occur (a) within the period of the employment; (b) at a place the employee may reasonably be; and (c) while the employee is reasonably fulfilling the duties of the employment or doing something incidental to it.” McNamara v. Hamden, 176 Conn. 547, 550-51 (1979). “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); Bell v. U. S. Home Care Certified of Connecticut, 13 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 294, 1792 CRB-1-93-8 (April 21, 1995). The question of whether an injury meets these criteria is factual in nature and is committed to the trial commissioner’s discretion. Tovish, supra, 605.

Kaplan v. State of Connecticut/Department of Health Services, 14 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 296, 297-98, 2012 CRB-1-94-4 (Sept. 11, 1995).

First, we will address the question of whether the claimant was within the period of her employment at the time of the injury. Our Supreme Court explained the McNamara decision as follows: “‘[t]he exact time [of injury] is not significant’ for purposes of compensation, as long as [the] injury takes place on [the] premises and in close temporal proximity to [the] work day.” Mazzone v. Connecticut Transit Co., 240 Conn. 788, 794 (1997) (emphasis added). In McNamara, supra, the claimant was injured while playing ping pong on the employer’s premises five minutes prior to the start of his work day. The court held that “he was, according to the definition developed in workmen’s compensation law, within the period of employment, regardless of the fact that it was five minutes prior to the commencement of the official work day. The exact time is not significant, so long as the employee is on the premises reasonably close to the start or finish of the work day.” McNamara, supra, at 551 (emphasis added). Accordingly, in the instant case we conclude as a matter of law that the claimant’s act of hanging up her coat immediately prior to the start of her work day occurred within the period of her employment.

Secondly, we will address the issue of whether the claimant was at a place she may reasonably have been at the time of the accident. In the instant case, the uncontroverted evidence indicates that the claimant was told by her employer to hang her coat in the isolation room and that there was no area available to hang her coat in the classroom. (10/14/97 TR. at p. 6-8, 11). Moreover, the claimant was hanging up her coat at a reasonable time, approximately at 9:20 A.M., immediately prior to her 9:30 A.M. start time. Under these uncontroverted facts, we conclude that as a matter of law that the claimant was at a place she may reasonably have been at the time of the accident.

Thirdly, we will address the third prong of the “in the course of the employment” test, which is whether the claimant was “fulfilling the duties of the employment or doing something incidental to it.” In McNamara, supra, the court explained that activities involving personal comfort may “fulfill the requirements of place and time, without being of benefit to the employer; and yet compensation may be awarded in such instances, because the injury had occurred on the premises as the result of a customary activity sanctioned by the employer through approval or acquiescence.” Id. at 553-4 (citations omitted) (emphasis added). Furthermore, the court stated, “It is generally held sufficient that the activity is an accepted and normal one, since it thereby becomes a regular incident and condition of the employment.” Id. at 555 (citations omitted).

In the instant case, the uncontroverted evidence indicates that the claimant was told by her employer to hang her coat in the isolation room; that there was no area available to hang her coat in the classroom; and that she could not work while wearing a winter coat. (10/14/97 TR. at p. 6-8, 11). Under these circumstances, we conclude that as a matter of law the claimant’s need to hang her winter coat in the isolation room was an act incidental to her employment. See Mazzone, supra (the court concluded that as a matter of law, eating lunch on an unused bus on the employer’s premises was incidental to the claimant’s employment).

Finally, we will address the issue of whether the injury arose out of the employment. This requirement “refers to the origin and cause of the accident.” McNamara, supra, at 550. “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, supra, at 607. We have already determined that the claimant’s injury occurred in the course of her employment. As discussed above, the use of the coat rack in the isolation room was ordered by the employer and was incidental to the employment. Accordingly, we must conclude that the claimant’s injury arose out of her employment.

The trial commissioner’s decision is reversed.

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/1999/3745crb.htm

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