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Manganello v. State of Connecticut/Dept. of Mental Health

CASE NO. 4082 CRB-01-99-07

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

NOVEMBER 27, 2000

CAROL MANGANELLO

CLAIMANT-APPELLANT

v.

STATE OF CONNECTICUT/DEPT. OF MENTAL HEALTH

EMPLOYER

SELF-INSURED

RESPONDENT-APPELLEE

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Barry S. Moller, Esq., Cramer & Anderson, 46 West Street, P.O. Box 278, Litchfield, CT 06759-0278.

The respondent was represented by Donna Hixon-Smith, Esq., Assistant Attorney General, 55 Elm Street, P. O. Box 120, Hartford, CT 06141-0120.

This Petition for Review from the July 2, 1999 Finding and Dismissal of the Commissioner acting for the First District was heard June 16, 2000 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman John A. Mastropietro and Commissioners Robin L. Wilson and Leonard S. Paoletta.

OPINION

JOHN A. MASTROPIETRO, CHAIRMAN. The claimant has petitioned for review from the July 2, 1999 Finding and Dismissal of the trial commissioner acting for the First District. In that decision the trial commissioner concluded that the claimant did not suffer from reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), and therefore dismissed her claim that she was totally disabled. In support of her appeal, the claimant contends that the medical evidence indicated that the claimant suffered from RSD, and that the trial commissioner erred by misconstruing the opinion of Dr. Steckler, who conducted an examination at the request of a trial commissioner. We find no error.

The trial commissioner found that in 1991 and 1992 the claimant sustained accepted bilateral carpal tunnel injuries for which surgeries were performed. The claimant continued to complain of pain in her hands, and was referred to Dr. Squier, who evaluated and treated the claimant from May 24, 1993 through June 28, 1994. Dr. Squier stated in his June 28, 1994 medical note, “I do not feel the PT [patient] has RSD [reflex sympathetic dystrophy] and would not benefit from any type of symy block.” (Finding ¶ 10). The claimant was then referred to the Yale Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Pain Clinic, and was examined by Dr. Thimineur at the Yale University School of Medicine, Center for Pain Management. Dr. Thimineur stated in his August 11, 1994 report that “this is clearly not a syndrome consistent with RSD….” (Finding ¶ 13). The claimant treated with her family physician, Dr. Papandrea, who diagnosed her with RSD involving both upper and lower limbs. The claimant was also referred to Dr. Wade, a neurologist, who has continued to treat the claimant. Dr. Wade diagnosed RSD and opined that the claimant was permanently disabled.

An independent medical examination was performed at the request of the respondent by Dr. Watson on June 17, 1994 and again on July 14, 1997. Dr. Watson found no objective abnormality requiring treatment, and no evidence of reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Subsequently, pursuant to § 31-294f, a trial commissioner’s examination of the claimant was performed on July 31, 1995 by Dr. Steckler, who initially opined that the claimant suffered from RSD. Dr. Steckler performed another trial commissioner’s examination of the claimant on October 26, 1996, and issued a report stating that during that examination he found “no evidence of reflex sympathetic dystrophy in either upper or lower extremity.” His October 26, 1996 report further stated:

Given the history and my prior examination I must admit that she does have reflex sympathetic dystrophy of both upper extremities but on this examination I found no evidence in her feet. Certainly if the reflex sympathetic dystrophy is present in her feet it is not work related since it did not occur as a result of the injury sustained at work. Thus if she does have reflex sympathetic dystrophy affecting her feet and hands, it would tend to make her totally disabled. Since reflex sympathetic dystrophy is a sometime thing it is difficult to make a diagnosis on one examination. (Finding ¶ 26).

In support of her appeal, the claimant contends that the trial commissioner failed to provide a reasonable explanation for not following Dr. Steckler’s opinion regarding RSD, citing Iannotti v. Amphenol/Spectra-Strip, 13 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 319, 321, 1829 CRB-3-93-9 (April 25, 1995). We have repeatedly held that a trial commissioner “should articulate the reasons behind a decision to disregard a § 31-294f examiner’s opinion, [even though] the ultimate decision is always with the commissioner.” Nieves v. SCM Company, 3317 CRB-6-96-4 (July 9, 1997), citing Iannotti. In the instant case, the trial commissioner explained his reason for not following Dr. Steckler’s opinion, specifically that Dr. Steckler’s opinion was “somewhat conflicting and less reliable [than the other] physicians who rendered opinions on the issue.” (Finding ¶ K). The commissioner thus adequately articulated a reason for disregarding Dr. Steckler’s opinion.

It was within the discretion of the trial commissioner, as the trier of fact, to assess the credibility of all of the evidence, including conflicting medical opinions. In her appeal, the claimant is essentially seeking to retry the facts of this case, which this board may not do. When reviewing a trial commissioner’s decision, it is well established that this board “is obligated to hear the appeal on the record and not retry the facts….” O’Reilly v. General Dynamics Corp., 52 Conn. App. 813, 816 (1999) (quotations omitted). The determination of whether an injury arose out of and in the course of the employment requires a factual determination by the trial commissioner. O’Reilly, supra; McDonough v. Connecticut Bank & Trust Co., 204 Conn. 104, 117 (1987).

“In reviewing the factual determinations of the commissioner, the review [board’s] scope of review is limited. The review [board] may not disturb the conclusions that the commissioner draws from the facts found unless they result from an incorrect application of the law to the subordinate facts or from an inference illegally or unreasonably drawn from them.” Ferrara v. Hospital of St. Raphael, 54 Conn. App. 345, 351 (1999) (citations omitted). “Once the commissioner makes a factual finding, [we are] bound by that finding if there is evidence in the record to support it….” Id. at 349 (citations omitted). In the instant case, the evidence in the record fully supports the trial commissioner’s conclusion that the claimant did not sustain RSD as a result of her employment.

Finally, we find no merit to the claimant’s argument that the trial commissioner erred by denying the claimant’s Motion to Correct by not accepting the claimant’s testimony regarding her physical limitations, including her limited ability to perform household chores. A trial commissioner has the right to reject testimony even if seemingly uncontradicted. Cummings v. Twin Tool Mfg. Co., 40 Conn. App. 36, 44 (1996). Additionally, we do not agree with the claimant’s argument that the trial commissioner misinterpreted the testimony of the vocational expert, Mr. Cohen, regarding the claimant’s ability to obtain employment. The trial commissioner’s conclusion that the claimant did not suffer from RSD as a result of her employment is fully supported by the evidence in the record, and was not based on impermissible or unreasonable factual inferences or contrary to law. Therefore, the decision must be upheld. Fair v. People’s Savings Bank, 207 Conn. 535 (1988).

The trial commissioner’s decision is affirmed.

Commissioners Robin L. Wilson and Leonard S. Paoletta concur.

Workers’ Compensation Commission

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