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Robichaud v. State of Connecticut/Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services

CASE NO. 4854 CRB-8-04-9

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

SEPTEMBER 15, 2005

BARBARA ROBICHAUD, Dependent widow of GUY ROBICHAUD, Deceased

CLAIMANT-APPELLEE

v.

STATE OF CONNECTICUT/DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL HEALTH & ADDICTION SERVICES

EMPLOYER

SELF-INSURED

RESPONDENT-APPELLANT

and

BERKLEY ADMINISTRATOR

ADMINISTRATOR

APPEARANCES:

The claimant was represented by Thomas Weaver, Esq., 721 Broad Street, Meriden, CT 06450

The respondent was represented by Yinxia Long, Esq., and Philip Schulz, Esq., Assistant Attorneys General, 55 Elm Street, P.O. Box 120, Hartford, CT 06141-0120.

This Petition for Review from the September 1, 2004 Finding & Award of the Commissioner acting for the Eighth District was heard April 15, 2005 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman John A. Mastropietro and Commissioners Michelle D. Truglia and Nancy E. Salerno.

OPINION

JOHN A. MASTROPIETRO, CHAIRMAN. The respondent appeals from the September 1, 2004 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Eighth District.1 In that Finding and Award the commissioner ordered the respondent to reimburse the claimant for payments she made for group health insurance for herself and her children.

The pertinent facts in this matter are as follows. The claimant is the dependent spouse of the decedent, Guy Robichaud. The decedent was an employee of the Whiting Forensic Institute who on or about November 24, 1995 claimed an injury to his heart. On November 13, 1996, a Voluntary Agreement in which the respondent accepted the compensability of the decedent’s claim was approved. On April 18, 1999 the decedent died as a result of his compensable heart injury. On August 14, 2000 a Voluntary Agreement was approved in which the respondent accepted the claimant’s claim for benefits pursuant to § 31-306.

Thereafter the claimant sought reimbursement for payment of group health insurance for herself and the presumptive dependent children for the years 1999-2003. The amount of reimbursement sought was $28,971.16. The trial commissioner in his September 1, 2004 Finding and Award held the respondent responsible for reimbursement. The respondent filed this appeal.

The thrust of the appellant’s argument is that the legal basis for the trier’s order is § 31-284b and that there is no reference in § 31-306 to the benefits provided by § 31-284b(a). Sec. 31-284b(a) provides:

In order to maintain, as nearly as possible, the income of employees who suffer employment-related injuries, any employer who provides accident and health insurance or life insurance coverage for any employee or makes payments or contributions at the regular hourly or weekly rate for full-time employees to an employee welfare plan, shall provide to the employee equivalent insurance coverage or welfare plan payments or contributions while the employee is eligible to receive or is receiving compensation pursuant to this chapter, or while the employee is receiving wages under a provision for sick leave payments for time lost due to an employment-related injury. As used in this section, “income” means all forms of remuneration to an individual from his employment, including wages, accident and health insurance coverage, life insurance coverage and employee welfare plan contributions and “employee welfare plan” means any plan established or maintained for employees or their families or dependents, or for both, for medical, surgical or hospital care benefits.

The appellant argues § 31-306 directs surviving dependents be “compensated at a weekly compensation equal to seventy-five per cent of the average weekly earnings of the deceased . . . .” The appellant contends that as § 31-284b is not mentioned as part of the benefits to which a dependent is entitled the commissioner erred in awarding those benefits. We disagree.

The issue and arguments raised by the appellant were previously considered by this tribunal in Weymouth v. East Windsor-Police Department, 4550 CRB-1-02-7 (April 3, 2003), Sansone v. Enfield, 3885 CRB-1-98-9 (November 18, 1999), appeal dismissed, A.C. 20303 (February 16, 2000). In both cases this tribunal held benefits pursuant to § 31-284b were to be provided to the claimant and the decedent’s dependents as long as they were eligible to receive benefits pursuant to § 31-306. As we stated in Weymouth, supra, stare decisis compels the conclusion we reach today.

At oral argument, the appellant asked us to revisit our holding in Weymouth and Sansone in light of the legislature’s enactment of Sec. 1-2z. Sec. 1-2z provides:

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.

Although Weymouth was decided before the legislature’s codification of § 1-2z, we do not believe § 1-2z provides a legal basis for overturning our prior holdings on this issue. As we stated in Weymouth:

“The stare decisis ‘doctrine counsels that a court should not overrule its earlier decisions unless the most cogent reasons and inescapable logic require it.’ George v. Ericson, 250 Conn. 312, 318 (1999), quoting Hall v. Gilbert & Bennett Mfg. Co., 241 Conn. 282, 296 (1997). ‘Stare decisis is justified because it allows for predictability in the ordering of conduct, it promotes the necessary perception that the law is relatively unchanging, it saves resources and it promotes judicial efficiency.’ George, supra, citing Conway v. Wilton, 238 Conn. 653, 658-59 (1996). As an appellate body, we are faithful to the stare decisis doctrine . . . a court, agency or tribunal should not break from precedent unless there is an inescapable and crucial need to do so in the interests of justice. George, supra, 319; Conway, supra, 660.”

As we further noted in Weymouth,

At the time of the trier’s decision [in Weymouth], this board’s ruling in Sansone was less than three years old. The legislature has not since acted to contravene the effects of that holding, nor has our system since changed in such a way that there is cause to consider modifying our decision . . . . We also wish to make one or two additional points. When we state that our legislature has not acted to overturn the effects of Sansone, we are also recognizing our Appellate Court’s 1991 decision in Tufaro v. Pepperidge Farm, Inc., 24 Conn. App. 234 (1991). There, the court held that § 31-284b applies not only to an injured employee who is unable to return to work following the termination of her job, but also to her dependents. The court held that, despite the absence of a specific reference to dependents in § 31-284b, the legislative intent to cover such dependents could be inferred from the express objective of the statute, which was to maintain the income of employees who suffer employment-related injuries. ‘Because the underlying purpose of the act is to provide not only for the worker but also for her dependents, . . . the compensation review division reasonably and correctly construed General Statutes § 31-284b to include the dependents’ benefits as a part of that [employee’s] income.’ Id., 239. No voice of disapproval for this holding has emerged from our legislature, and it has become commonly accepted in this system that health insurance for dependents is included in the protections of § 31-284b.

We are now approaching six years since we first proclaimed in Sansone that § 31-306 requires the continuation of benefits pursuant to § 31-284b. We do not believe § 1-2z provides a basis to overturn our prior holdings or a reason to deviate from the supporting legal authority provided by Tufaro, supra.

We therefore affirm the September 1, 2004 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Eighth District.

Commissioners Michelle D. Truglia and Nancy E. Salerno concur.

1 We note that extensions of time were granted to the appellant during the pendency of this appeal. BACK TO TEXT

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