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Vincent v. City of New Haven

CASE NO. 4919 CRB-3-05-1

COMPENSATION REVIEW BOARD

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COMMISSION

JANUARY 13, 2006

MARTHA VINCENT, Dependent widow of EDWIN VINCENT

CLAIMANT-APPELLEE

v.

CITY OF NEW HAVEN

EMPLOYER

RESPONDENT-APPELLANT

and

CIRMA

ADMINISTRATOR

APPEARANCES:

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

The respondent was represented by Jason M. Dodge, Esq., Pomeranz, Drayton & Stabnick, 95 Glastonbury Boulevard, Glastonbury, CT 06033.

This Petition for Review from the January 21, 2005 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Third District was heard July 15, 2005 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman John A. Mastropietro and Commissioners Stephen B. Delaney and Michelle D. Truglia.

OPINION

JOHN A. MASTROPIETRO, CHAIRMAN. The respondents have petitioned for review from the January 21, 2005 Finding and Award of the Commissioner acting for the Third District. They argue on appeal that the trier should have held that § 31-306 C.G.S. dependents’ benefits do not include insurance coverage that would otherwise be payable by a municipality under § 31-284b C.G.S. We find no error, and affirm the decision of the trial commissioner.

The claimant, Edward Vincent, was employed by the respondent City of New Haven. He filed a successful claim for § 7-433c C.G.S. benefits with an October 10, 1990 date of injury, and was receiving group health insurance benefits pursuant to § 31-284b1 as part of that accepted claim. The claimant died on September 3, 1991. His dependent widow entered into an agreement with the respondent by which they also accepted her claim for benefits under § 31-306. However, the respondent contested liability for continuing health insurance coverage under § 31-284b, reasoning that the statutory language does not impose such an obligation on the municipality. The trial commissioner ruled in favor of the claimant, following the precedent of Sansone v. Enfield, 3885 CRB-1-98-9 (November 18, 1999), appeal dismissed, A.C. 20303 (February 16, 2000), and Weymouth v. East Windsor Police Department, 4550 CRB-1-02-7 (April 3, 2003), which decisions dealt with the same factual issue. The respondents have appealed that decision to this board.

There are two recent decisions by this board that would seem to constitute binding precedent here. In Sansone, supra, we held that the statutory compensation package for a qualifying § 31-306 dependent includes entitlement to health insurance benefits under § 31-284b. We cited Tufaro v. Pepperidge Farm, Inc., 24 Conn. App. 234 (1991), in which the Appellate Court had ruled that § 31-284b requires the continuation of dependents’ benefits as well as those of the injured worker, and then considered the construction of § 31-306. Even though § 31-306 does not specifically mention insurance coverage, we held that the term “compensation” should remain consistent throughout the Workers’ Compensation Act, which term generally includes benefits payable under § 31-284b. See § 31-275(4) C.G.S. We additionally reasoned that “[i]t would be inconsistent with the benevolent spirit of the Act to hold that a dependent spouse whose husband survived his compensable injury would normally be entitled to a continuation of her insurance coverage under § 31-284b, but that a dependent widow would not qualify for such compensation even though she is eligible for other ‘economic loss’ benefits under chapter 568. We thus hold that the ambiguous interplay of § 31-284b and § 31-306 should be construed to allow the claimant to receive accident, life and health insurance coverage as part of her survivor’s benefits.” Sansone, supra.

In Weymouth, supra, we again noted that “the absence of references to further benefits in § 31-306 has not stopped courts from authorizing dependent survivors of deceased workers [to recover] other types of benefits, such as specific indemnity awards. Cappellino v. Cheshire, 226 Conn. 569, 575 (1993).” We also cited the principle of stare decisis, which 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).” Weymouth, supra (additional citations omitted). Because the legislature had not acted to contravene the effects of the Sansone holding, nor had the statutory system changed in such a way as to justify modification of that decision, we held that the trier erred by failing to follow the holding of Sansone. We also noted that, after further considering the merits of the issue, we “emphatically endorse the majority opinion” in Sansone. Weymouth, supra. “[T]hese benefits directly impinge upon the welfare of both the employee and each one of the dependents covered under the policy. . . . [This] benefit . . . would suddenly evaporate at the moment of [the employee’s] death, even though [the dependents’] adjunctive death benefit claim would originate from the same compensable injury. We would strongly disfavor such a result, as it would create an additional hardship for the dependents of deceased employees—individuals who would already be struggling to adjust to the recent demise of a family member and financial provider.” Id.

The appellants contend that the rules of statutory interpretation have changed since our decisions in Sansone and Weymouth. In those decisions, the CRB took into account the purpose of the statutes and statutory history of § 31-306, in addition to the text of the statutes themselves. By virtue of P.A. 03-154, which is now codified at § 1-2z, “[t]he 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.” The appellants maintain that the clear and unambiguous language of § 31-306 excludes § 31-284b benefits. Contrary to our Sansone opinion, they contend that there is no interplay between the list of benefits prescribed by the statutory term “compensation” as defined by § 31-275(4) (a list that includes “death benefit”) and the distinct, abbreviated list in § 31-306, which names only burial expenses and weekly compensation benefits (including cost-of-living adjustments).

Given six years of legislative inaction in response to our decision in Sansone, we believe that it would be inappropriate to overturn that ruling and our decision in Weymouth based upon the recent introduction of § 1-2z to the Connecticut General Statutes. We have already held that the relationship between § 31-306 and § 31-284b is ambiguous, which would obviate the application of § 1-2z. We also note that the relationship between § 31-306 and other statutes was indeed considered in reaching our earlier holdings, which is a criterion listed in § 1-2z. We therefore decline to reverse our earlier holdings.

The trial commissioner’s decision is accordingly affirmed.

Commissioners Stephen B. Delaney and Michelle D. Truglia concur.

1 Section 31-284b provides, in relevant part, “(a) 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.” BACK TO TEXT

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