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Merenski v. Greenwich Hospital Associates, Inc. a/k/a Greenwich Hospital

CASE NO. 4292 CRB-7-00-9

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

SEPTEMBER 12, 2001

BEVERLY MERENSKI, Dependent widow of MICHAEL P. MERENSKI (Deceased)

CLAIMANT-APPELLEE

v.

GREENWICH HOSPITAL ASSOCIATES, INC. a/k/a GREENWICH HOSPITAL

EMPLOYER

and

RISK MANAGEMENT PLANNING GROUP

INSURER

RESPONDENTS-APPELLANTS

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Christopher Lagano, Esq., Trow & Sank, 30 Oak Street, Stamford, CT 06905.

The respondents were represented by James M. Hughes, Esq., McNamara & Kenney, 375 Bridgeport Avenue, Shelton, CT 06484.

This Petition for Review from the September 7, 2000 Ruling and Memorandum Re: Respondent’s Motion to Dismiss of the Commissioner acting for the Seventh District was heard April 27, 2001 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman John A. Mastropietro and Commissioners George A. Waldron and Ernie R. Walker.

OPINION

JOHN A. MASTROPIETRO, CHAIRMAN. The respondents have petitioned for review from the September 7, 2000 Ruling and Memorandum Re: Respondent’s Motion to Dismiss of the Commissioner acting for the Seventh District. They contend on appeal that the trier erred by failing to dismiss the instant claim for compensation based on untimely notice. We disagree, and affirm the trial commissioner’s decision.

The claimant, Beverly Merenski, is the surviving spouse and sole presumptive dependent of Michael Merenski, who died of a heart attack on November 29, 1995 while at work at the facilities of the respondent Greenwich Hospital. The parties stipulated that the hospital provided medical care to the decedent following his heart attack, subsequent to which he expired. The claimant filed a written notice of claim on September 16, 1997. The respondents moved for dismissal of the claim on the ground that her notice was untimely pursuant to § 31-294c(a) C.G.S, which requires a claimant to file a written notice of claim for compensation “within one year from the date of accident or within three years from the first manifestation of a symptom of the occupational disease, as the case may be, which caused the personal injury, provided, if death has resulted within two years from the date of the accident or first manifestation of a symptom of the occupational disease, a dependent or dependents, or the legal representative of the deceased employee, may make claim for compensation within the two-year period or within one year from the date of death, whichever is later.” The trial commissioner ruled that the claimant’s notice of claim complied with the statute on its face, and denied the Motion to Dismiss. The trier did not reach the issue of the applicability of the medical care exception in § 31-294c(c). The respondents have appealed that decision.

The respondents acknowledge that § 31-294c(a) allows for the filing a claim when death occurs within two years of a compensable accident or occupational injury. They contend, however, that where “death was the only incident precipitating the claim, when no occupational injury was claimed and when and where the employer provided medical care and attention to the claimant’s decedent at time of injury allowing an exception for the claimant to the usual one year period of statute of non-claim,” a one-year notice period applies to the surviving spouse’s claim for benefits. Brief, pp. 1-2. This argument is based heavily on inferences drawn from the legislative history of Public Act No. 59-580, § 8, which was responsible for adding the phrase “or within one year from the date of death, whichever is later,” to the “within the two-year period” language that has been codified since the 1920’s as part of § 31-294c in its various incarnations. Though said legislative history does not discuss specific statutory language, it “is replete with mention of the need to reform the statute of limitations for occupational disease where the disease manifests itself long after an employee has ceased working for an employer in whose employ the occupational exposure occurred.” Capen v. Electric Boat Division, 11 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 326, 329 n.2, 1394 CRB-2-92-3 (Dec. 30, 1993), aff’d, 38 Conn. App. 73 (1995). The respondents here seek to persuade this board that the legislature intended the two-year notice period to apply only to dependents who might need an extended time to file a claim, due to the confusion regarding causation that often results from an intervening period between an employee’s exposure to an occupational disease and his death.

This argument faces an insurmountable threshold problem: it contradicts the language of § 31-294c(a), which expressly states that if death results within two years of the date of an accident, a dependent may file a compensation claim at any time within those two years. “The purpose of statutory construction is to give effect to the intended purpose of the legislature. . . . If the language of a statute is plain and unambiguous, we need look no further than the words actually used because we assume that the language expresses the legislature’s intent.” (Citations and internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. DeFrancesco, 235 Conn. 426, 435 (1995). In such circumstances, construction of the statute by reference to its history and purpose is unnecessary. State v. Gurreh, 60 Conn. App. 166, 171 (2000). A court may not torture the words of a statute in order to import ambiguity where the ordinary meaning of the language is straightforward. Sczapa v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 56 Conn. App. 325, 330 (2000). “While it is possible that in some cases the legislature has not said what it meant, nevertheless, when statutory language is clear and unambiguous we must presume that it meant what it said.” Trankovish v. Frenish, Inc., 47 Conn. App. 628, 631 (1998).

Here, the decedent suffered a heart attack during the course of his employment on November 29, 1995, and died shortly thereafter. His surviving spouse filed a notice of claim on September 16, 1997, within two years of the date of his death, as required by the statute. See Tardy v. Abington Constructors, Inc., 4105 CRB-2-99-8 (Oct. 30, 2000) (widow must file her own claim pursuant to § 31-294c and § 31-306). The language of the statute does not create an exception to the two-year period for situations in which there is no substantial delay between injury and death, and it is not our job to contort the statute in order to find one, particularly given the remedial purpose of the Workers’ Compensation Act. Gil v. Courthouse One, 239 Conn. 676, 682 (1997). The practical imposition of such a distinction would require the application of standards that would be both subjective and arbitrary. Further, one of our own past cases, Dorsett v. General Dynamics Corp., 8 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 77, 805 CRD-2-88-12 (May 8, 1990), aff’d, 23 Conn. App. 327 (1990) (per curiam), cert. denied, 218 Conn. 901 (1991), acknowledged that the two-year period was applicable where a dependent widow filed a claim five months after her late husband suffered a heart attack (cardiomyopathy) and died on the same day. See also, Capen, supra; Mingrone v. Burndy Corp., 9 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Rev. Op. 252, 1109 CRD-7-90-9 (Nov. 21, 1991). Thus, we perceive no legal basis upon which the respondents’ appeal could be reasonably sustained.

The trial commissioner’s decision is accordingly affirmed. Insofar as benefits due the claimant have remained unpaid pending the outcome of this appeal, interest is awarded as required by § 31-301c(b).

Commissioners George A. Waldron and Ernie R. Walker concur.

Workers’ Compensation Commission

Page last revised: December 21, 2004

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