Imbrogno v. Stamford Hosp.

Decision Date17 September 1992
Docket NumberNo. 10550,10550
Citation612 A.2d 82,28 Conn.App. 113
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
PartiesAngelina IMBROGNO v. STAMFORD HOSPITAL, et al.

Jason M. Dodge, Hartford, for appellees (defendants).

Before DUPONT, C.J., and FOTI and LAVERY, JJ.

DUPONT, Chief Judge.

The plaintiff appeals from a decision of the compensation review division affirming a January 5, 1990 finding and award by the workers' compensation commissioner. We affirm the decision of the compensation review division on all issues except the failure to award interest on the medical bills for which payment was ordered by the commissioner.

On September 15, 1979, the plaintiff and the defendant employer had a contract of employment. Their employment relationship was subject to the Connecticut Workers' Compensation Act, as amended. General Statutes §§ 31-275 through 31-355a. The defendant employer insured its full compensation liability with the defendant insurer, Aetna Life and Casualty Company. On September 15, 1979, the plaintiff sustained an accidental injury to her left, nonmaster forearm, which injury arose out of and in the course of her employment. Following the accident, the plaintiff received workers' compensation payments until approximately sometime in December, 1982, at which time the payments were stopped by the defendants.

The cessation of the workers' compensation payments in 1982 prompted formal hearings and argument before the commissioner that concluded in 1987 with a finding and award dated May 11, 1987. The central focus of those hearings and the 1987 decision was the interplay between the plaintiff's deteriorating mental status brought about by the 1979 injury and certain unrelated surgery performed on her in February, 1982. The plaintiff argued that her psychiatric disability was a direct and proximate result of her September, 1979 compensable injury. The defendants contended that they are not obligated to pay for any psychiatric treatment or total disability benefits after February, 1982, due to the intervening and unrelated surgery. In his 1987 finding and award, the commissioner concluded that the plaintiff is totally disabled due to posttraumatic stress disorder. The commissioner further found that, although the plaintiff developed a conversion hysteria disorder as a result of her 1979 compensable injury, this condition did not render her totally disabled. Rather, the commissioner concluded, "the basis for the claimant's total disability [the posttraumatic stress disorder] is the cervical surgery [an anterior cervical fusion at C4-C5 and excision of the C4-C5 disc] performed upon her by Dr. [Allen] Chamberlin on February 24, 1982," which surgery "was unrelated to her September 15, 1979 left arm injury, and that such surgery was unjustified insofar as it may relate to said compensable left arm injury." The 1987 finding and award made the defendants liable for all psychiatric care for the plaintiff made necessary as a result of the conversion hysteria disorder, "the full extent of which is limited to such care as will restore her to the point where her mental status was prior to her cervical surgery on February 24, 1982." Accordingly, the finding and award did not provide for any additional temporary total disability benefits. The commissioner made no findings on the issue of the plaintiff's eligibility for permanent partial (specific) benefits for the injury to her left arm, leaving the matter undecided. The commissioner also left undecided the issues of liability for outstanding medical bills, interest and attorney's fees, and the acceptance or denial of Form 36. 1

The plaintiff attempted to obtain review of the commissioner's May 1987 finding and award. Her appeal to the compensation review division, however, was determined to be untimely. The review division did review the commissioner's denial of her Further formal hearings and argument before the commissioner took place in 1989. On January 5, 1990, the commissioner issued a second finding and award which addressed the issue of the defendants' liability for the payment of various outstanding bills pertaining to medical and psychiatric treatment provided to the plaintiff by a number of medical providers between 1979 and 1988. The commissioner ordered the defendants to pay certain bills that were not disputed by them and to pay the undisputed portion of certain other bills. For the most part these bills were incurred prior to February 24, 1982, with the exception of bills for ongoing psychiatric treatment. With regard to those bills that were totally contested by the defendants, the commissioner concluded that "the claimant has not sustained her burden of proof in showing that such bills were by authorized medical providers and/or being reasonable and necessary," and denied liability. The commissioner further ordered that the defendants pay a reasonable attorney's fee of $1000 to the plaintiff's counsel for their undue delay in the payment of the undisputed bills for which payment was ordered. 2 No interest was awarded to the plaintiff arising out of the defendants' undue delay in the payment of the bills.

                timely filed request for modification and reopening, concluding that there was no basis to overrule the commissioner's action.   The review division also granted the plaintiff's motion to compel the defendants to comply with that portion of the commissioner's award that requires the defendants to provide psychiatric care to the plaintiff sufficient to restore her to her mental status before the 1982 cervical surgery.   See Imbrogno v. Stamford Hospital, 5 Conn.  Workers' Comp.Rev.Op. 99 (1988).   No further appeal was taken
                

The plaintiff appealed the 1990 finding and award to the compensation review division. On August 2, 1991, the review division concluded that the commissioner's factual conclusions regarding the disputed claims for payment of medical expenses were reasonable. The review division also concluded that the amount of attorney's fees awarded by the commissioner was a proper exercise of discretion and, therefore, affirmed the January 5, 1990 finding and award. See Imbrogno v. Stamford Hospital, 9 Conn. Workers' Comp.Rev.Op. 174 (1991). This appeal followed.

On appeal, the plaintiff contends that the commissioner and the compensation review division did not properly analyze the underlying facts and the prior decisions in the case. She argues that she is entitled to disability payments and full payment for treatment for both the physical and psychiatric injuries. Specifically, she claims that (1) temporary total disability benefits should be paid by the defendants subsequent to the December, 1982 cutoff date, with permanent awards to follow when shown to be due, (2) bills for all medical treatment (except those for the unauthorized cervical fusion of February 24, 1982) should be paid by the defendants, (3) attorney's fees for all work in this case by plaintiff's counsel should be paid by the defendants, and (4) interest should be paid on all of the foregoing.

Our standard of review in workers' compensation appeals is well settled. "The commissioner has the power and duty to determine the facts and his conclusions must stand unless incorrectly drawn from

                the subordinate facts, illegal or unreasonable....  The compensation review division must review the appeal on the record and must not retry the facts."  (Citations omitted.)  Hicks v. Department of Administrative Services, 21 Conn.App. 464, 466, 573 A.2d 770, cert. denied, 216 Conn. 804, 577 A.2d 716 (1990).   Affording the plaintiff's claims the appropriate standard of review, we conclude that the compensation review division properly affirmed the determination of the commissioner on all issues except the failure to award interest on the medical bills for which payment was ordered by the commissioner
                
TEMPORARY TOTAL BENEFITS

Although the issue of temporary total disability benefits is not discussed in the commissioner's 1990 finding and award, the commissioner addressed the subject of the claim for temporary total benefits during the course of the formal hearings. He concluded that further contest of that issue by the plaintiff was precluded by his 1987 finding and award. See footnote 1, supra. We agree that the commissioner's 1987 decision, which became final in 1988, precluded further contest of the issue of temporary total benefits in the subsequent proceeding that is the basis of this appeal.

"The adjudications and awards of compensation boards or commissions, as well as the judgments of courts, in proceedings for the recovery of compensation, are generally held to be conclusive upon the parties and their privies, as to the matters and issues involved or justiciable therein, so as to preclude, under the doctrine of res judicata, the relitigation thereof in subsequent proceedings." 82 Am.Jur.2d, Workmen's Compensation § 583, p. 304. In 1987, the commissioner determined that the plaintiff's disability was psychiatric in nature and was caused by the cervical surgery performed upon her on February 24, 1982, which surgery was unrelated to her 1979 compensable injury. 3 Consequently, temporary total disability benefits were denied on the basis of an intervening event, unrelated to the compensable injury, which broke the chain of causation linked to the original, compensable injury. See Dehron v. Clark, 122 Conn. 592, 191 A. 526 (1937); Lemieux v. Highland Dairy Co., Inc., 121 Conn. 483, 185 A. 433 (1936); J. Asselin, Connecticut Workers' Compensation Practice Manual (1985), p. 45; 1 A. Larson, Law of Workmen's Compensation (1985) § 13.11(a).

The plaintiff attempts to avoid the preclusive effect of the prior determination by arguing that, when the review division affirmed the 1987 decision of the commissioner in 1988, there remained several...

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