McDonough v. Connecticut Bank and Trust Co., 12972

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation527 A.2d 664,204 Conn. 104
Decision Date16 June 1987
Docket NumberNo. 12972,12972

Page 664

527 A.2d 664
204 Conn. 104
No. 12972.
Supreme Court of Connecticut.
Argued March 4, 1987.
Decided June 16, 1987.

Robert E. Beach, Jr., for appellants-appellees (defendants).

Matthew Shafner, with whom was Frank N. Eppinger, Groton, for appellee-appellant (plaintiff).


HULL, Associate Justice.

The plaintiff employee, Rosalie McDonough, claimed workers' compensation benefits from her employer, the defendant Connecticut Bank and Trust [204 Conn. 105] Company, as a result of unusual emotional stress at work which accelerated underlying physical conditions and precipitated the onset of disabling heart disease. On December 7, 1982, the workers' compensation commission for the second district awarded her statutory compensation for total incapacity, for the period from June 19, 1980, until July 15, 1981, and reasonable medical expenses. 1

Page 666

The named defendant and the defendant[204 Conn. 106] Travelers Insurance Company, its insurer, appealed the award to the compensation review division (CRD). The plaintiff then cross appealed to the CRD.

[204 Conn. 107] The defendants' principal claim on appeal to the CRD was that the ultimate conclusion that the plaintiff's disability due to heart disease arose out of and in the course of employment was not supported by the findings when the appropriate standards of law are applied. The plaintiff's sole claim on her cross appeal was that the commissioner erred in failing to find that her disability continued after July 15, 1981.

The CRD affirmed and adopted the findings and award of the commissioner as corrected. The CRD noted that the employer claimed that the disability was [204 Conn. 108] caused by factors which preexisted the June, 1980 events, that the work place stress was only a minor factor, and that no injury or occupational disease as defined by statute had been proved. The CRD declined to substitute its factual conclusions for those of the commissioner. 2

On their appeal from the order of the CRD, the defendants raise two issues: (1) whether the CRD applied the appropriate standard when analyzing heart disease cases for the necessary connection with employment; and (2) whether the appropriate standard was [204 Conn. 109] met in this case. The plaintiff, in her cross appeal, claims error in the CRD's affirmation of the commissioner's conclusion that her total incapacity lasted from June 18, 1980, only until July 15, 1981, the date of "the last examination of Dr. Pembrook."

The defendants' first argument is that the plaintiff's disability was not caused by one of the three categories of injury defined in General Statutes § 31-275, which provides in subsection (8): " 'Personal injury', or 'injury', as the same is used in this chapter, shall be construed to include, in addition to accidental injury, which may be definitely located as to the time when and the place where the accident occurred, an injury to an employee which is causally connected with his employment and is the

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direct result of repetitive trauma or repetitive acts incident to such employment, and occupational disease as herein defined."

Subsection (11) of § 31-275 provides: " 'Occupational disease' includes any disease peculiar to the occupation in which the employee was engaged and due to cause in excess of the ordinary hazards of employment as such and includes any disease due to or attributable to exposure to or contact with any radioactive material by an employee in the course of his employment."

"The act's definition of three categories of compensable personal injury is exclusive." Grady v. St. Mary's Hospital, 179 Conn. 662, 668, 427 A.2d 842 (1980). Since it is undisputed that the commissioner did not find that the plaintiff's heart disease was the result of repetitive trauma or occupational disease, the defendant's first claim is that the plaintiff can recover only if she proved that her disability was the result of an accidental injury definitely located as to time and place.

The defendants' second claim is lack of causation, since a compensable injury is one "arising out of and in the course of" employment. General Statutes [204 Conn. 110] § 31-284. As they argued before the CRD, the defendants claims that stress-related heart claims require a special test for causation.

The plaintiff frames the two issues of "accidental injury" and "causation" differently. She urges us to combine the two lines of thought into the single question of whether the CRD erred in determining, on the facts it affirmed and accepted as its own, that job-related stress was a substantial factor that proximately caused the plaintiff's cardiac disability described as myocardial ischemia, intermittent spasm, and angina pectoris. In discussing "causation," however, the plaintiff relies on Connecticut cases analyzing the issue in terms of accidental injury.

It is clear that the twin issues of "accidental injury" and "arising out of and in the course of employment" coalesce on occasion. Their interrelationship is extensively analyzed in A. Larson, The Law of Workmen's Compensation (1987) §§ 38.80 through 38.83. In most of the cases that Larson describes, the concepts of accident and causation are so commingled that it is impossible to segregate them. Id., supra, § 38.82. Larson goes on to point out that in heart and related cases "the essence of the problem is causation." Id., § 38.83(a).

General Statutes § 31-284 3 makes it very clear that, for our purposes, we are dealing with one overall standard. To qualify for compensation under the workers' Compensation Act an employee must sustain a personal injury, arising out of and in the course of his employment. [204 Conn. 111] See General Statutes § 31-284(a). Analysis of pertinent Connecticut authority reveals that our precedents bear out Larson's view that, in heart-related cases, the essence of the problem is causation.

We start with Stier v. Derby, 119 Conn. 44, 174 A. 332 (1934). The plaintiff's decedent, William Stier, was regularly employed at the Derby Gas and Electric Company and also was a supernumerary policeman for the city of Derby. He received a call from the Derby police informing him that a man had drowned in the Housatonic River and asking him to go there to render assistance. He rushed around to various places in great haste and excitement, obtained an inhalator, drove to the wrong location, and then to the correct one. When he reached the scene he grabbed the inhalator, suddenly lifted it out of the car and was running with it when he was told that one was already there. Twice during his hurried drive to the scene he experienced chest pain. When he returned to his car he was pale, sweating, and experiencing further chest pain. He was driven to his home, but before a doctor could be

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summoned he died. The commissioner found that his death was due to thrombosis or occlusion of the coronary arteries and that the excitement and unusual exertion were contributing causes of his death and constituted an accidental injury within the meaning of the compensation act. He further found that the decedent was employed only by the Derby Gas and Electric Company and that the injury arose out of and in the course of his employment. The defendant Derby Gas and Electric Company appealed to the Superior Court, which dismissed the appeal and confirmed the award. This court stated that the primary question on appeal was whether the decedent's death was the result of a personal injury received in the course of his employment and arising out of it. We held that the statute requiring proof of an accidental injury which can be definitely located both as to time [204 Conn. 112] and place "does not require that the time be fixed by a stopwatch or the place by a mathematical point." Stier v. Derby, supra, 49-50, 174 A. 332. We determined that the time and place of the injury were definitely located as the interval of time and space covered by the deceased after his receipt of the information concerning the drowning until he left the scene of the drowning to return to Derby. Id., 50-51, 174 A. 332.

In sustaining the commissioner's finding, we held that "the coronary thrombosis or forming of the blood clot is a matter of a few minutes. Death from this source if caused by unusual excitement and over-exertion is an accidental injury within the compensation law. Richardson v. New Haven, 114 Conn. 389, 391, 158 A. 886 [1932]; Hartz v. Hartford Faience Co., 90 Conn. 539, 543, 97 A. 1020 [1916]; Monk v. Charcoal Iron Co., 264 Mich. 193, 224 N.W. 354, 355 [1929]; Schroetke v. Jackson-Church Co., 193 Mich. 616, 160 N.W. 383, [1916]. 'Whatever predisposing physical condition may exist, if the employment is the immediate occasion of the injury, it arises out of the employment because it develops within it.' Hartz v. Hartford Faience Co., supra, 90 Conn. at 539, 543, 97 A. 1020; Madden's Case, 222 Mass. 487, 494, 111 N.E. 379 [1916]." Id., 119 Conn. at 52, 174 A. 332.

In Jones v. Hamden, 129 Conn. 532, 29 A.2d 772 (1942), the plaintiff's decedent was a public school janitor who was cleaning snow from a sidewalk. He was engaged in snow removal work for not more than two or three minutes when he fell unconscious. He died ten days later of a hemorrhage of an aneurysm in the brain.

The commissioner denied compensation concluding that the death was " 'not due to any accidental injury which may be definitely located as to the time when, and the place where it occurred, nor to any unusual activity incidental to his said employment on January 27th 1941, causing extraordinary excitement and [204 Conn. 113] physical exertion.' " Id., 533, 29 A.2d 772. The commissioner further concluded that the death was not due to an accidental injury within the meaning of the Compensation Act, arising out of and in the course...

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    ...the injury occurs simultaneously with the employment but does not arise out of it. See, e.g., McDonough v. Connecticut Bank & Trust Co ., 204 Conn. 104, 117–18, 527 A.2d 664 (1987) ("[T]here [must be] a direct causal connection between the injury ... and the employment. The question [the tr......
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