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Gibbons v. UTC/Pratt & Whitney

CASE NO. 4000 CRB-08-99-03



APRIL 12, 2000











The claimant was represented by Brian Prucker, Esq., Fitzgerald & Prucker, 212 Talcottville Road, Rte. 83, Vernon, CT 06066.

The respondents were represented by Douglas Drayton, Esq., Pomeranz, Drayton & Stabnick, 95 Glastonbury Boulevard, Glastonbury, CT 06033.

This Petition for Review from the March 10, 1999 Finding and Dismissal of the Commissioner acting for the Eighth District was heard November 19, 1999 before a Compensation Review Board panel consisting of the Commission Chairman John A. Mastropietro and Commissioners George A. Waldron and Stephen B. Delaney.


JOHN A. MASTROPIETRO, CHAIRMAN. The claimant has petitioned for review from the March 10, 1999 Finding and Dismissal of the Commissioner acting for the Eighth District. He contends on appeal that the trier erred by dismissing his claim for compensation. We affirm the trial commissioner’s decision.

The claimant was employed by the respondent UTC/Pratt & Whitney on March 11, 1991. He fell ill on that date, and went to the plant medical department, from where he was taken to the emergency room and diagnosed with a heart condition. The trier found that the claimant filed a Notice of Claim regarding that illness in 1994. The claimant contends that it was a compensable injury precipitated by a confrontation with his supervisor, Albert Lebel. When the claimant related this history to his physician, Dr. McDowell, the doctor agreed with him. The trier found, however, that Lebel’s 50th birthday was on March 11, 1991, and that his attendance records confirm that he took a vacation day from work on that date. He found that the claimant’s “testimony and presentation of his history to his physician was inaccurate and lacked credibility;” Findings, ¶ 14; and dismissed the instant claim. The claimant has appealed that ruling to this board, along with the commissioner’s denial of his Motion to Correct.

The claimant essentially argues in his brief that the relevant facts establishing his work-related heart attack were uncontroverted, and that the trier erred by (1) assigning great significance to the claimant’s misidentification of Albert Lebel as the foreman on duty on the morning of March 11, 1991, and by (2) referring to a 1994 Notice of Claim that allegedly mentioned Lebel when such notice was never actually filed.1 The claimant also takes issue with a finding that states that he “told Dr. Arthur McDowell about the confrontation with Mr. [Lebel] causing Dr. McDowell to opine that this event caused the claimant to have a heart attack on March 11, 1991.” See Findings, ¶ 11. In the deposition of Dr. McDowell, Lebel is not mentioned by name. Claimant’s Exhibit O. The claimant contends that the identity of the foreman who supervised the claimant that day is immaterial, as “the claimant never alleged in his notice of claim that Mr. [Lebel] was a key factor in this undisputed sequence of events,” and the doctor’s diagnosis is consistent with an electrocardiogram that was taken at the employer’s medical facility at 10:44 A.M. on March 11, 1991. Brief, 8-10.

The claimant’s attempt to divorce the discrepancy surrounding Lebel’s presence at the workplace on the date of injury from the rest of the claimant’s case, however, is not something that can be accomplished on appeal. In a workers’ compensation case, the claimant has the burden of proving to the satisfaction of the trial commissioner that he has sustained a compensable injury. Murchison v. Skinner Precision Industries, Inc., 162 Conn. 142, 151 (1972); Freeman v. UTC/Sikorsky Aircraft, 3568 CRB-4-97-4 (June 3, 1998). As the trier of fact, the commissioner is the sole individual vested with the authority to decide which, if any, evidence is probative, including the testimony of both lay and expert witnesses. Kish v. Nursing & Home Care, Inc., 47 Conn. App. 620, 627 (1998), aff’d, 248 Conn. 379 (1999); Pallotto v. Blakeslee Prestress, Inc., 3651 CRB-3-97-7 (July 17, 1998). Even where an oral statement or a doctor’s report is not expressly contradicted, the trier may still draw inferences regarding its reliability from the demeanor of the witness, the overall consistency of the testimony, the presence or absence of corroborative empirical evidence, the nature and circumstances of the alleged injury, or any other element of the case that the factfinder deems significant. On review, this board does not have the power to second-guess a trial commissioner’s decision that a particular version of the facts is or is not credible. Freeman, supra; Perry v. Commercial Interior Systems, 3571 CRB-7-97-4 (June 3, 1998).

The nature of the claimant’s alleged injury in this case was such that a causal connection between his employment and his injury could not be demonstrated solely by the existence of hospital records showing that he exhibited symptoms of a myocardial infarction at the workplace. Instead, expert testimony based upon an accurate medical history was necessary to establish a firm connection between the claimant’s job and his heart attack. See Murchison, supra, 151-52. Though Dr. McDowell gave an opinion that provided support for the claimant’s case, he stated that the claimant had “risk factors” that strongly increased the likelihood of heart disease, including elevated cholesterol, a smoking habit, and a family history of heart disease. Deposition, 31. The claimant had also been sick for a week or two with a “bad cold” prior to returning to work on March 7, 1991. Id.; April 15, 1998 Transcript, 24-25. Dr. McDowell’s March 15, 1991 report stated that, following the onset of his upper respiratory tract infection, the claimant had experienced episodes of “substernal chest pressure,” which was the same symptom he complained of on the date of his alleged injury. Claimant’s Exhibit B.

In his deposition, Dr. McDowell opined that the claimant was at risk to have a heart attack upon the occurrence of some “inciting event,” such as heavy physical work, an emotional shock, or an argument. Deposition, 33. He relied upon the claimant’s history—first provided to him in 1996—which reflected that the claimant had been operating heavy equipment, and had had “some conflict of some sort with [his] boss,” immediately prior to his infarction. Id., 30-31. This alleged triggering event also provided the necessary link between the claimant’s injury and his employment. Whether or not such a stressful incident actually occurred, however, was a question of fact whose resolution depended on the trial commissioner’s assessment of the claimant’s testimony. Unfortunately for the claimant, there were inconsistencies in his testimony that presumably led the trier to doubt the veracity of the claimant’s story.

While setting forth the events that occurred at the claimant’s workplace on the morning of March 11, 1991, the claimant described the scene in great detail. He recalled, for example, how many crane operators were working on his shift, what the weather was like that morning, the difficulties he had in starting the crane, the order in which he moved fixtures, boxes and pallets, and the fact that his hair was wet on the sides of his head when he reached the medical department. Transcript, 9-15. Among these details were many specific references to Albert Lebel, who allegedly had instructed the claimant to remove a particular fixture, had walked alongside the claimant’s crane while he was preparing to unload the fixture, and had then amended his instructions, frustrating the claimant and forcing him to retrace some of his steps. Id., 9-13. The claimant even recalled that Lebel had placed his hands on the fender of the crane, and had rebuffed the claimant’s inquiry as to why he was walking so close to the moving vehicle. Id., 28-29. The claimant directly stated that Lebel had been with him the entire time. Id., 30.

When the respondents subsequently demonstrated that Lebel had not been at the workplace on March 11, 1991, the trier predictably lost confidence in the fidelity of the claimant’s other assertions regarding the events of that day. This was not legally improper. The claimant asserted in his Motion to Correct that this case was about “medical evidence and causation” rather than credibility. Motion to Correct, ¶ 1. Though the objective medical data demonstrates that the claimant suffered a heart attack, Dr. McDowell’s diagnosis that this ailment was immediately triggered by events at the workplace was also dependent upon the claimant’s representation that there had been unusual stress at his job on the morning in question. In light of the revelation about Lebel, the commissioner had cause to doubt the accuracy of that history as well. Thus, credibility was most certainly at issue in this case.

A trial commissioner may find factual inconsistencies in a claimant’s story to be significant, and dismiss the claim. See, e.g., Perry, supra. He may also find such discrepancies to be unimportant, and deem an injury compensable. See, e.g., Roche v. Danbury Hospital, 3592 CRB-7-97-5 (July 13, 1998). Either way, that decision is completely up to the commissioner. Here, the claimant was identified by his doctor as a high-risk candidate for a heart attack. The claimant attempted to demonstrate that events at work had precipitated its occurrence. The trial commissioner later determined that the claimant was not telling the truth about some of these events, and chose to dismiss his claim rather than to rely on his doctor’s reports. It was within his discretion to do so.

The trial commissioner’s decision is hereby affirmed.

Commissioners Stephen B. Delaney and George A. Waldron concur.

1 We find that the commissioner’s reference to a Notice of Claim was irrelevant to the ultimate decision in this case, which depended upon the credibility of the claimant’s testimony. Therefore, we will not discuss it further. See Perry v. Commercial Interior Systems, 3571 CRB-7-97-4 (June 3, 1998). BACK TO TEXT

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