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Hardt v. Town of Watertown

CASE NO. 4743 CRB-5-03-10

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

NOVEMBER 30, 2004

DAVID HARDT

CLAIMANT-APPELLEE

v.

TOWN OF WATERTOWN

EMPLOYER

and

RSK COMPANY

INSURER

RESPONDENTS-APPELLANTS

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Edward T. Dodd, Jr., Esq., Dodd, Lessack, Ranando & Dalton, 700 West Johnson Avenue, Cheshire, CT 06410.

The respondents were represented by Collette Gladstone, Esq., Howd & Ludorf, 65 Wethersfield Avenue, Hartford, CT 06114.

This Petition for Review from the October 8, 2003 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Fifth District was heard June 18, 2004 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of Commissioners A. Thomas White, Jr., Amado J. Vargas and Nancy E. Salerno.

OPINION

A. THOMAS WHITE, JR., COMMISSIONER. The appellants, the Town of Watertown and RSK Company, have appealed from the October 8, 2003 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Fifth District. We reverse the decision of the trial commissioner.

The pertinent facts are as follows. At all relevant times the claimant was a volunteer member of the respondent Watertown’s Volunteer Fire Department. On April 23, 2001 the claimant injured his right knee while he was playing basketball in an open gymnasium program (hereinafter “the program”) arranged by the Watertown Volunteer Fire Department (hereinafter “the Department”) for its members. The claimant was a paid Deputy Fire Chief of the Department. On April 23, 2001 the claimant was also employed full time by the State of Connecticut at the Garner Correctional Institution.

Members of the Department were required to pass an annual physical examination. The Department did not have a structured physical fitness program, however, it arranged for weekly basketball games, primarily in the winter, at a town owned school and it also arranged for softball games during the summer months. The Department leadership encouraged members to participate in these programs, however, involvement was voluntary. Information about the program was announced over the Department’s radios which each Department member carried. Additionally, sign up sheets and schedules for the programs had been posted in the Watertown Fire Houses. Members of the Department were eligible to earn points towards their retirement for participation in the programs. The chief of the Department described the open gymnasium program as a loosely organized physical fitness program which was also recreational.

The trial commissioner found that the claimant was in training when he was injured on April 23, 2001 and therefore, was eligible for benefits under § 7-314a C.G.S. The respondents have appealed this decision. Before we proceed with the merits of the appeal we will address the claimant’s Motion to Dismiss this appeal. On December 5, 2003 the respondents filed Reasons for Appeal. On December 17, 2003 the claimant filed a Motion to Dismiss on the basis that the appellant’s Reasons for Appeal did “not properly set forth proper reasons for appeal.” See claimant’s Motion to Dismiss. Other than the appellee’s bald assertion that the Reasons for Appeal were improper, no specifics as to the manner of defect has been provided.1 We therefore deny the Motion to Dismiss.

On appeal the respondents argue the activity that the claimant injured himself in did not qualify as training under § 7-314a C.G.S. Section 7-314a(a) provides in pertinent part, that “active members of volunteer fire departments shall be construed to be employees of the municipality for the benefit of which volunteer fire services are rendered while in training or engaged in volunteer fire duty and shall be subject to the jurisdiction of the workers’ compensation commission and shall be compensated in accordance with the provisions of chapter 568 for death, disability or injury incurred while in training for or engaged in volunteer fire duties.” (Emphasis added.)

The trial commissioner specifically examined the meaning of the word “training” in the statute and stated, “in the statutory context of Section 7-314a the most reasonable meaning [of training] is to engage in physical activity or in today’s parlance-- to work out.” Findings, ¶ D. The trial commissioner reasoned that the members of the department were required to be physically fit enough to pass an annual physical examination and the program in which the claimant was injured was designed to promote physical fitness of the members. Therefore, he found the claimant was in training when he injured his knee and entitled to benefits under § 7-314a. Findings, ¶¶ E, F, and J.

The crux of this case relies on the statutory interpretation of § 7-314a. The meaning of the word “training” in the statute has not been previously discussed by this board or our Appellate and Supreme courts. Therefore, we must interpret the meaning of the word training within the statute. The state legislature passed Public Act 03-154 which states, “The meaning of a statute shall, in the first instance, be ascertained from the text of the statute itself and its relationship to other statutes. If, after examining such text and considering such relationship, the meaning of such text is plain and unambiguous and does not yield absurd or unworkable results, extratextual evidence of the meaning of the statute shall not be considered.”

For these reasons, we will first look to the language of the relevant statute at issue. Section 7-314a(a) provides benefits for a firefighter “. . . for death, disability or injury incurred while in training for or engaged in volunteer fire duty . . . .” (Emphasis added). One must be in training for or engaged in fire duties when the injury occurs in order to receive the benefits. To find that working out would bring a claimant under the purview of the statute would be to ignore the word “for” in the phrase “in training for volunteer fire duty.” Although the preceding phrase of § 7-314a(a) states that volunteer members “in training or engaged in volunteer fire duty” are considered employees of the municipality and only uses the phrase “in training,” the section of the statute that entitles a claimant to benefits uses the phrase “in training for.” When we interpret a statute we assume that there is a purpose for each word. Biasetti v. Stamford, 250 Conn. 65, 81 (1999). Therefore, in order to be entitled to benefits one must be in training for fire duties.

This is further referenced in the definition section of the statute, § 31-275(16)(B)(i) which states, in part, that a “personal injury” or “injury” shall not include an injury from the “voluntary participation in any activity the major purpose of which is social or recreational, including, but not limited to, athletic events . . .;”

Fire duties are defined in § 7-314(a) as including,

. . . duties performed while at fires, while answering alarms of fire, while answering calls for mutual aid assistance, while returning from calls for mutual aid assistance, while directly returning from fires, while at fire drills or parades, while going directly to or returning directly from fire drills or parades, while at tests or trials of any apparatus or equipment normally used by the fire department, while going directly to or returning directly from such tests or trials, while instructing or being instructed in fire duties, while answering or returning from ambulance calls where the ambulance service is part of the fire service, while answering or returning from fire department emergency calls and any other duty ordered to be performed by a superior or commanding officer in the fire department.

We also note that Sec. 7-314b(b) further defines benefits and describes “fire duties” which qualify members to receive compensation benefits. The training component discussed in § 7-314a(a) is limited to activities in § 7-314a that are directly involved in the fire fighting duties or other official duties. Therefore, physical activity not related to fire duties (i.e. recreational, non-mandatory basketball and softball games) does not qualify for the category of training which § 7-314a(a) intended to cover.

The plain meaning of the statute is clear on its face, furthermore, we are unaware of any language in the legislative history of § 7-314a(a) that would suggest that training was meant to apply to general physical activity unrelated to specific fire duties.

For these reasons, we reverse the October 8, 2003 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Fifth District.

Commissioners Amado J. Vargas and Nancy E. Salerno concur.

1 The claimant has not filed a brief in conjunction with the Motion to Dismiss, nor was the Motion to Dismiss addressed in the claimant’s brief or oral argument on this case. BACK TO TEXT

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