Clements v. Aramark Corp.

Decision Date24 June 2021
Docket NumberSC 20167
Citation339 Conn. 402,261 A.3d 665
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Wesley W. Horton, Hartford, CT, with whom were Brendon P. Levesque, Hartford, CT, and, on the brief, Dominick C. Statile, Glastonbury, CT, for the appellants (defendants).

Gary W. Huebner, for the appellee (plaintiff).

Robert F. Carter, Woodbridge, CT, filed a brief for the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association as amicus curiae.

Robinson, C. J., and Palmer, McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn and Ecker, Js.*



This certified appeal requires us to decide whether injuries that an employee sustains in the course of her employment also arise out of that employment, and therefore are compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act (act), General Statutes § 31-275 et seq., when the injuries result from an idiopathic fall1 from a standing position onto a level floor. The plaintiff, Sharon Clements, suffered a syncopal episode2 at her place of employment, which caused her to lose consciousness, fall backward and strike her head on the ground. The Workers’ Compensation Commissioner for the Second District (commissioner) denied her application for benefits, concluding that the head injury

she suffered due to the fall did not arise out of her employment because the fall was brought on by a personal medical infirmity unrelated to her employment. The Compensation Review Board (board) affirmed the commissioner's decision, and the plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Court, which reversed the decision of the board. The Appellate Court concluded that, under Savage v. St. Aeden's Church , 122 Conn. 343, 189 A. 599 (1937), injuries sustained by an employee as a result of an idiopathic fall onto a level surface are compensable as a matter of law, as long as the fall occurred in the course of the employment, as it did in the present case. See Clements v. Aramark Corp ., 182 Conn. App. 224, 231–37, 189 A.3d 644 (2018). We granted the petition for certification to appeal, filed by the named defendant, Aramark Corporation, the plaintiff's employer, and its insurer, the defendant Sedgwick CMS, Inc.,3 to decide whether the plaintiff's injury is compensable notwithstanding the commissioner's finding that the injury did not arise out of the plaintiff's employment.4 Although we acknowledge that, under our reasoning in Savage , the Appellate Court was required to reach the result that it did, we now overrule Savage insofar as it concluded that an employee is entitled to compensation as a matter of law when, during the course of his or her employment, the employee is injured due to an idiopathic fall onto a level floor. In light of that determination, we further conclude that the decision of the board in the present case affirming the decision of the commissioner must be affirmed. Accordingly, we are constrained to reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The opinion of the Appellate Court sets forth the following undisputed facts and procedural history. "The plaintiff, while employed by the defendant, served as a mess attendant at the Coast Guard Academy in New London (academy). Her duties included serving food and beverages, and cleaning up after meals. She typically worked during both breakfast and lunch. On the morning of September 19, 2012, the plaintiff drove to work, parked her vehicle at the academy at approximately 5:40 a.m., and exited her vehicle. She walked a short distance from her vehicle to a building. The path was short, not uphill or inclined in any way. The plaintiff did not trip. The plaintiff testified that, after entering the building and walking down a hallway, she ‘went through the door to go out to get into the next building,’ where she became lightheaded and passed out, falling backward ‘on the [asphalt],’5 and hitting her head on the ground. No one witnessed her fall. After she was discovered by coworkers, someone called for assistance. Members of the New London Fire Department arrived and found the plaintiff ‘lying on the ground’ with ‘a bump on the back of her head,’ ‘unable to sign [a] consent form because of her level of consciousness ....’ The plaintiff was taken to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital (hospital). Hospital reports indicate that the plaintiff suffered from a syncopal episode and that she was diagnosed with ecchymosis and swelling.6

A treating physician, Neer Zeevi, and hospital records, indicate that the plaintiff's syncope likely was cardiac or cardiogenic in etiology.

"While in the emergency room, the plaintiff suffered from cardiac arrest

. During her stay in the hospital, the plaintiff had a pacemaker inserted. In a discharge summary report, John Nelson, a neurologist, opined: ‘Apparently she had significant head trauma secondary to her fall. While in the emergency department, she again lost consciousness and was seen to have asystole7 on monitoring. [Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)] was initiated and the patient had return of spontaneous rhythm and blood pressure shortly afterwards. Per the [emergency room] physician, CPR was reportedly begun within [twenty] seconds [of] onset of asystole and was ... carried out [only] for approximately [ten] seconds before the patient experienced spontaneous return of rhythm.’ ...

"The plaintiff has a history of cardiac disease, hypertension

, hyperlipidemia, hypothyroidism, and an irregular heartbeat. She also has a family history of coronary disease. Her discharge records set forth, inter alia, the following diagnosis: asystolic arrest, cardiogenic syncope with concussive head injury, and hypothyroidism. On the basis of these findings, the commissioner determined that ‘the [plaintiff's] injury did not arise out of her employment with the [defendant] but was caused by a cardiogenic syncope.’

"The plaintiff appealed from the commissioner's decision to the board. She claimed, in relevant part, that the commissioner had misapplied the law and [incorrectly] determined that her injury did not arise out of her employment. The board disagreed, concluding that [t]here is no question that the [plaintiff] has been left with a significant disability as a result of the concussive injury [that] is the subject of this appeal. Nevertheless, the [plaintiff] provided the ... commissioner with no evidence [that] would substantiate the claim that her employment contributed in any fashion to the fall [that] led to the injury or that the injury would not have occurred [if] the [plaintiff had] been somewhere else at the time.’ Accordingly, the board affirmed the decision of the commissioner, ruling in favor of the defendant." (Footnotes altered.) Id., at 225–28, 189 A.3d 644.

On appeal to the Appellate Court, the plaintiff claimed that the board incorrectly concluded that, because the plaintiff's fall was caused by her personal medical condition and not by any condition of her workplace, the injury she suffered from the fall did not arise out of her employment and, consequently, was not compensable. Id., at 229, 189 A.3d 644. According to the plaintiff, her "injury arose out of her employment because it occurred on the premises of her employer when she hit her head on the ground before the start of her morning shift." Id., at 231, 189 A.3d 644. In support of this contention, the plaintiff relied primarily on Savage v. St. Aeden's Church , supra, 122 Conn. at 346–50, 189 A. 599 ; see Clements v. Aramark Corp ., supra, 182 Conn. App. at 231, 189 A.3d 644 ; in which this court concluded that the head injury

sustained by the employee in that case due to his fall onto a level concrete floor at his workplace was compensable, even if the fall was caused by a preexisting medical condition, because the injury itself was caused by the employee's fall to the floor, which, we explained, was a potential hazard of his employment. See Savage v. St. Aeden's Church , supra, at 345, 347, 189 A. 599. The defendant maintained that Savage was distinguishable on its facts and that the injury the plaintiff sustained in the present case did not arise out of her employment because the ground on which she struck her head was a not a hazard or condition of that employment for purposes of the act. See Clements v. Aramark Corp ., supra, 231, 234, 189 A.3d 644. The Appellate Court agreed with the plaintiff that Savage controlled the outcome of the present case; see id., at 231, 236–37, 189 A.3d 644 ; and, further, that she was entitled to compensation even though the condition of her employment that caused her injury was not " ‘peculiar’ " to her employment; id., at 236 n.6, 189 A.3d 644 ; a term this court previously has used in explaining the requirement that the injury must arise out of the employment to be compensable under the act. See, e.g., Labadie v. Norwalk Rehabilitation Services, Inc ., 274 Conn. 219, 238, 875 A.2d 485 (2005) ("conditions that arise out of employment are peculiar to [it], and not such exposures as the ordinary person is subjected to" (internal quotation marks omitted)). Accordingly, the Appellate Court reversed the decision of the board and remanded the case to the board with direction to sustain the plaintiff's appeal from the commissioner's adverse decision. Clements v. Aramark Corp ., supra, at 237, 189 A.3d 644.

We granted the defendant's petition for certification to decide whether, as the Appellate Court concluded, the plaintiff was entitled to compensation for the injury she suffered as a result of her fall, despite the finding of the commissioner that the injury did not arise of out of her employment. See Clements v. Aramark Corp ., 330 Conn. 904, 192 A.3d 425 (2018).8 In support of its contention that the Appellate Court should have affirmed the decision of the board, the defendant renews its claim that the present case is distinguishable from Savage and, in addition, maintains that we should reconsider and reject our determination in Savage that an idiopathic fall to a level floor that...

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