Spatafore v. Yale University

Decision Date03 December 1996
Docket NumberNo. 15496,15496
Citation684 A.2d 1155,239 Conn. 408
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Gerald P. Dwyer, New Haven, for appellant (plaintiff).

John M. Letizia, with whom, on the brief, was Andrew A. Cohen, Woodbridge, for appellee (defendant).

Before CALLAHAN, C.J., and BORDEN, KATZ, and PALMER, JJ. 1

KATZ, Associate Justice.

The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether an employee who, during her unpaid lunch break, sustained an injury while walking back to work from a union meeting, has a compensable injury under the Workers' Compensation Act (act). 2 We conclude that she does not.

The following facts are undisputed. The plaintiff, Rosemarie Spatafore, is a clerical employee of the defendant, Yale University, and a union representative for Local 34 of the Federation of University Employees, Hotel and Restaurant Employees International. On August 24, 1992, the plaintiff was returning to work after having attended a weekly union meeting during her unpaid lunch break when she fell on a sidewalk that was owned by Yale-New Haven Hospital, Inc., and injured her left arm. The plaintiff worked at the defendant's office of professional services in the Farnham building, which is located between Howard and Cedar Streets in the Yale University Hospital complex. The union meeting was held in the defendant's Sterling cafeteria on Cedar Street. The meeting was a weekly meeting held for union representatives throughout the area and was not a special grievance meeting or negotiating session. The defendant, as an employer, was not permitted to attend the meeting, and the plaintiff's attendance at the meeting was voluntary.

Pursuant to General Statutes § 31-294c (a), 3 the plaintiff submitted a claim for workers' compensation benefits. Thereafter, on August 30, 1993, pursuant to General Statutes § 31-297, 4 workers' compensation commissioner John A. Arcudi (commissioner) held a hearing during which the collective bargaining agreement (agreement) between the defendant employer and the union was introduced. On March 30, 1994, the commissioner issued a written finding and award in which he found that, according to the agreement, the plaintiff was not permitted to engage in union activities during work time and that the union was permitted to make reasonable use of the defendant's facilities. The commissioner further found that the plaintiff had sustained an injury to her left upper extremity when she tripped on a crack in the sidewalk while returning to her office in the Yale-New Haven Hospital complex in New Haven, following a union meeting at Sterling Hall, a Yale University Medical School building. The commissioner further found that the route the plaintiff had taken from the meeting to her office was direct. 5 Following the articulation of these facts, the commissioner determined that the plaintiff's attendance at the union meeting on August 24, 1992, had been for the mutual benefit of the plaintiff and the defendant, that the plaintiff's "going and coming from the meeting was therefore part of her employment or an activity incidental to it," and that, consequently, her injury was compensable under the act and she was entitled to all indemnity and medical benefits thereunder.

Thereafter, on April 7, 1994, pursuant to General Statutes § 31-301, 6 the defendant filed a petition for review with the compensation review board (board) together with a motion for extension of time to file reasons for appeal. The board acknowledged the appeal, assigned it a case number, and thereby asserted its jurisdiction over the matter. The defendant also filed with the commissioner a motion to correct the finding, asking that the commissioner add certain facts to his decision. 7 Neither the defendant nor the plaintiff requested an opportunity to submit additional evidence or to conduct further evidentiary hearings. The board allowed the defendant two weeks from the commissioner's ruling on the motion to correct to file its reasons for the appeal.

On May 2, 1994, the commissioner withdrew his finding and award and ordered further evidentiary hearings regarding the ownership of the facilities involved, the relationship of the defendant to the union, and the relationship of Yale University School of Medicine to Yale-New Haven Hospital, Inc. On August 18, 1994, before the commissioner, the defendant objected to any further hearings or submission of further evidence, claiming that because the case was pending before the board, the commissioner lacked jurisdiction to withdraw his decision and to order further evidentiary hearings on factual issues that had been covered. The hearing, however, proceeded over the defendant's objection.

Despite the events before the commissioner, the board, having asserted jurisdiction over the matter, denied a jointly filed motion for a continuance, determined that no further evidence was necessary and set a briefing schedule. On September 14, 1995, the board issued its opinion. It first concluded that the defendant's motion to correct, not having been expressly ruled on by the commissioner, was deemed denied. According to the board, the failure to act on the motion to correct was insignificant because, taking the facts as originally found, the claimant had not suffered a compensable injury. The board found no evidence to support the commissioner's determination that the plaintiff's injuries arose out of and had been suffered in the course of her employment. Specifically, the board found no evidence to support the commissioner's conclusion that the plaintiff's attendance at the union meeting had been for the mutual benefit of the plaintiff and the defendant, particularly because the defendant had had no involvement with the union meeting and the plaintiff had been on an unpaid lunch break while at the meeting. The board concluded that "independent evidence of a benefit to the employer regarding union activity must be shown before a trial commissioner may conclude that such activity benefits an employer." Moreover, the board concluded that because the plaintiff's injuries undisputedly did not occur on the defendant's property, the plaintiff would be required to demonstrate that her injury resulted "from some peculiar danger involved in the course taken or means used by [her] in coming to or going from work [and] it must appear that such danger was a risk annexed to the employment by the employer's contemplating and acquiescing in the use thereof by the employee." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) The board concluded that because the plaintiff had not met that burden, her injuries were not compensable under the act. This appeal followed. 8

On appeal the plaintiff claims that the board: (1) exercised an improper standard of review; (2) improperly overturned the commissioner's factual findings that the plaintiff's attendance at the union meeting was of mutual benefit to the plaintiff and the defendant and that the plaintiff's injury was compensable; and (3) improperly usurped the commissioner's function. 9 We are not persuaded.

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 a 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." Bakelaar v. West Haven, 193 Conn. 59, 67, 475 A.2d 283 (1984); McNamara v. Hamden, 176 Conn. 547, 556, 398 A.2d 1161 (1979). "Proof that the injury arose out of the employment relates to the time, place and circumstances of the injury. McNamara v. Hamden, supra, [at] 550 . Proof that the injury occurred in the course of the employment means that the injury must occur (a) within the period of the employment; (b) at a place the employee may reasonably be; and (c) while the employee is reasonably fulfilling the duties of the employment or doing something incidental to it. [Id.], [at] 550-51 ; Pagani v. BT II, Limited Partnership, 24 Conn.App. 739, 745-46, 592 A.2d 397, cert. dismissed, 220 Conn. 902, 593 A.2d 968 (1991)." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Crochiere v. Board of Education, 227 Conn. 333, 349-50, 630 A.2d 1027 (1993).

The determination of whether an injury arose out of and in the course of employment is a question of fact for the commissioner. Fair v. People's Savings Bank, 207 Conn. 535, 539, 542 A.2d 1118 (1988). A party aggrieved by a commissioner's decision to grant or deny an award may appeal to the board pursuant to § 31-301, which provides in pertinent part: "(a) At any time within ten days after entry of an award by the commissioner ... either party may appeal therefrom to the Compensation Review Board .... (b) The appeal shall be heard by the Compensation Review Board.... The Compensation Review Board shall hear the appeal on the record of the hearing before the commissioner, provided, if it is shown to the satisfaction of the board that additional evidence or testimony is material and that there were good reasons for failure to present it in the proceedings before the commissioner, the Compensation Review Board may hear additional evidence or testimony. (c) Upon the final determination of the appeal by the Compensation Review Board ... [it] shall issue its decision, affirming, modifying or reversing the decision of the commissioner. The decision of the Compensation Review Board shall include its findings, conclusions of law and award...." 10 "[T]he [board's] hearing of an appeal from the commissioner is not a de novo hearing of the facts.... [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...

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28 cases
  • Clements v. Aramark Corp.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 24 Junio 2021
    ...for an injury under the act a plaintiff must prove that the injury is causally connected to the employment." Spatafore v. Yale University , 239 Conn. 408, 417, 684 A.2d 1155 (1996) ; see also Fair v. People's Savings Bank , 207 Conn. 535, 545, 542 A.2d 1118 (1988) ("[t]he essential connecti......
  • Birnie v. Electric Boat Corp.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 19 Agosto 2008
    ...the conditions of employment are a substantial factor in bringing about an injury is one of fact; see, e.g., Spatafore v. Yale University, 239 Conn. 408, 418, 684 A.2d 1155 (1996); and considering that what constitutes a substantial factor will, therefore, vary with the circumstances of eac......
  • Hanson v. Transportation General, Inc.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 28 Julio 1998
    ...whether an injury arose out of and in the course of employment is a question of fact for the commissioner." Spatafore v. Yale University, 239 Conn. 408, 418, 684 A.2d 1155 (1996). Accordingly, we apply the same deferential standard of review that we accord to findings of fact by a trial jud......
  • Brown v. United Technologies Corp.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • 10 Febrero 2009
    ...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......
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2 books & journal articles
  • Developments in Tort Law: 1996 Annual Survey
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 71, 1996
    • Invalid date
    ...88 K2d 1482 (7th Cir. 1996) (preemption applies); Dukes v.U.S. Healthcare, Inc., 57 R3d 350 (3rd Cir. 1995) (preemption applies). 205 239 Conn. 408, 694 A.2d 1155 (1996). 206 ld. at 426-27. 207 4O Conn. App. 278, 670 A.2d 874 (1996). 208 41 Conn. App. 664, 676 A.2d 1388, cffL dvd4 239 Conn.......
  • Labor Relations and Employment Law: 1997 Developments in Connecticut
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 72, 1997
    • Invalid date
    ...Grace Hospital Society, 107 Conn. 512, 516, 141 A. 649 (1928). 95.Id. 96.Id. at 798. Compare Spatafore v. Yale University, 239 Conn. 408, 684 A.2d 1155 (1996) (injury occurring during return from a union meeting attended during unpaid lunch break held not compensable). 97.241 Conn. 692, 699......

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