Brown v. United Technologies Corp.

Decision Date10 February 2009
Docket NumberNo. 29293.,29293.
Citation112 Conn.App. 492,963 A.2d 1027
PartiesSharon BROWN v. UNITED TECHNOLOGIES CORPORATION, Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Division, et al.
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals

Mark Merrow, Middletown, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Jason M. Dodge, Glastonbury, for the appellees (defendants).

BISHOP, ROBINSON and FREEDMAN, Js.

ROBINSON, J.

This appeal concerns whether an injury suffered by an employee while walking at a pace akin to power walking during an unpaid lunch break on the employer's premises is compensable under the Workers' Compensation Act (act), General Statutes § 31-275 et seq. The plaintiff, Sharon Brown, appeals from the decision of the workers' compensation review board (board) vacating the decision of the workers' compensation commissioner (commissioner) granting her application for workers' compensation benefits. We affirm the decision of the board.

The following facts and procedural history are necessary for our resolution of the plaintiff's appeal. The plaintiff, who began working for the defendant United Technologies Corporation, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Division (Pratt & Whitney)1 in 1978, was taking a walk on the Pratt & Whitney grounds during her one-half hour unpaid lunch break on July 8, 2005, when she fell and sustained an injury to her right shoulder. The plaintiff, an employee of the shipping department, had been walking this particular path every day during her lunch break for ten years unless there was rainfall or the temperature was less than forty-eight degrees.2 The plaintiff testified before the commissioner that she walked daily for the purpose of improving her health she is a borderline diabetic and her physician recommended that she exercise. She also testified that her walking is purely voluntary, that she does not associate with any other Pratt & Whitney employees during her walk, that when she walks she churns her arms up and down to get her heart rate higher and that she makes a concentrated effort to elevate her heart rate by walking at a rapid pace. She does not have to ask permission of her supervisor or anyone else at Pratt & Whitney to take a lunchtime walk.

The plaintiff reported her injury to a supervisor and immediately sought medical attention at work. She was sent to the emergency room at Middlesex hospital and a few days later visited her physician. She eventually learned that she had a torn tendon in her shoulder, and she received physical therapy for her injury.

The plaintiff presented evidence at the hearing before the commissioner that she was totally incapacitated from July 9 through August 20, 2005. In his September 26, 2006 finding and award, the commissioner found that "[t]he health of Pratt & Whitney workers was surely enhanced by any type of reasonable physical activity pursued on company grounds during unpaid breaks by its employees." The commissioner further found that the plaintiff's walking on company grounds during her lunch break "was, under the within facts, `incidental' to her employment, and, therefore, her right shoulder injury is found to be a compensable event," and also was not barred from compensation under the social-recreational exception to the act. Pratt & Whitney filed a petition for review and a motion to correct the commissioner's decision; the motion to correct was denied by the commissioner.3

On October 23, 2007, the board issued its opinion and vacated the commissioner's finding and award, concluding that the plaintiff's injury was not compensable. The board rejected the commissioner's finding that the plaintiff's injury was incidental to her employment and found no mutual benefit to both parties from the plaintiff's activities. The board further found that the commissioner's finding that "[t]he health of Pratt & Whitney workers was surely enhanced by any type of reasonable physical activity" was "unsupported by any probative evidence on the record." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) This appeal followed.

The plaintiff argues that the board improperly concluded that her activities were not incidental to her employment. She did not address the issue of whether her injury arose out of her employment because she claims that Pratt & Whitney concedes this; Pratt & Whitney, however, disputes it. The plaintiff further argues that the social-recreational exception in § 31-275(16)(B)(i) does not apply to bar compensation for her injury.4 We affirm the decision of the board not for the reason enunciated by the board but on the ground that the social-recreational exception of § 31-275(16)(B)(i) bars coverage for the plaintiff's injury.

We initially set forth the applicable standard of review. A party aggrieved by a commissioner's decision to grant or deny an award may appeal to the board pursuant to General Statutes § 31-301.5 The board "is obliged to hear the appeal on the record and not retry the facts.... [T]he power and duty of determining the facts rests on the commissioner, the trier of facts.... The conclusions drawn by him from the facts found must stand unless they result from an incorrect application of the law to the subordinate facts or from an inference illegally or unreasonably drawn from them." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Spatafore v. Yale University, 239 Conn. 408, 419, 684 A.2d 1155 (1996). "Our scope of review of the actions of the board is similarly limited.... The role of this court is to determine whether the ... [board's] decision results from an incorrect application of the law to the subordinate facts or from an inference illegally or unreasonably drawn from them." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Parisi v. Yale University, 89 Conn.App. 716, 722, 874 A.2d 852 (2005).

I

The plaintiff argues that she has satisfied the causal connection between her employment and her injury because she has established that her injury both arose out of her employment and in the course of her employment. Pratt & Whitney asserts that the plaintiff has failed to satisfy both the "arose out of" and "in the course of" prongs because her injury did not occur as a proximate cause of her employment and because she has failed to demonstrate that her daily walks were incidental to her employment. We address each argument in turn.

For her injury to be compensable, the plaintiff had to prove that it arose both out of her employment and in the course of her employment. "It is well settled that, because the purpose of the act is to compensate employees for injuries without fault by imposing a form of strict liability on employers, to recover for an injury under the act the plaintiff must prove that the injury is causally connected to the employment. To establish a causal connection, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the claimed injury (1) arose out of the employment and (2) in the course of the employment." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Spatafore v. Yale University, supra, 239 Conn. at 417-18, 684 A.2d 1155. "The personal injury must be the result of the employment and flow from it as the inducing proximate cause. The rational mind must be able to trace resultant personal injury to a proximate cause set in motion by the employment and not by some other agency, or there can be no recovery." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Ryker v. Bethany, 97 Conn.App. 304, 309, 904 A.2d 1227, cert. denied, 280 Conn. 932, 909 A.2d 958 (2006).

A

We first conclude that the plaintiff's injury arose out of her employment.6 "Proof that the injury arose out of the employment relates to the time, place and circumstances of the injury." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Spatafore v. Yale University, supra, 239 Conn. at 418, 684 A.2d 1155. "Speaking generally, an injury arises out of an employment when it occurs in the course of the employment and as a proximate cause of it. [Therefore] [a]n injury which is a natural and necessary incident or consequence of the employment, though not foreseen or expected, arises out of it.... [C]onditions that arise out of employment are peculiar to [it], and not such exposures as the ordinary person is subjected to. It is therefore immaterial where the exposure originates, whether from the employment, or outside of it." (Emphasis in original; internal quotation marks omitted.) Labadie v. Norwalk Rehabilitation Services, Inc., 274 Conn. 219, 237-38, 875 A.2d 485 (2005). In Spatafore, our Supreme Court stated: "A finding of a fact of this character [whether the injury arose out of the employment] is the finding of a primary fact.... This ordinarily and in this case presents a question for the determination of the commissioner and we have no intention of usurping his function.... This rule leads to the conclusion that unless the case lies clearly on the one side or the other the question whether an employee has so departed from his employment that his injury did not arise out of it is one of fact.... The [board] is, therefore, bound by the findings of fact made by the commissioner, unless additions, corrections or modifications of findings of fact are made...." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Spatafore v. Yale University, supra, at 419-20, 684 A.2d 1155.

Although the commissioner did not make an explicit finding that the plaintiff's injury arose out of her employment, it is implicit in the commissioner's finding that the plaintiff's injury was compensable because compensability requires a finding that the injury arose both out of and in the course of employment. The board did not explicitly address the issue of whether the plaintiff's injury arose out of her employment in overturning the finding and award. On the basis of the facts found by the commissioner7 and the great deference afforded to the commissioner, we cannot say that this case clearly lies on one side or the other of the issue of whether the plaintiff had so departed from her employment as to conclude that her injury did not arise out of her employment.

B

We next address the issue...

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