Jose Ricardo Lopez v. Louis Pannone, Indiv. Co. 5933 CRB-7-14-5

Summarized by Frank Kachmar; Legal Intern

The appeal as filed by the respondent, “focused on a single question: does the statutory exemption in Chapter 568 for part-time household employees (31-275(9)(B)(iv) C.G.S.) cover workers on residential real property that the respondent uses as rental property and does not use as their residence?” The trial commissioner concluded that the statute did not apply, when, “the claimant was injured while repairing a house that the respondent did not occupy and subsequently used as a rental property” The respondent appealed, while arguing that the statute in question makes the injury noncompensable. In affirming the trial commissioner, the CRB rejected the respondent’s interpretation of that statute, as they deemed it, “inconsistent with the plain meaning of the statute and would lead to absurd or unworkable results.” (1-2z C.G.S)

On June 8, 2010, the claimant arrived at a vacant residential property at50 Middlebury Street, Stamford, CT via bus after picking up his tools at the respondent’s garage. Upon arrival, the respondent, an individual whom the claimant worked for previously at an Old Greenwich pizzeria, and frequently as a “casual employee” on various rental properties, directed the claimant to wash the rear of the house. While washing the rear of the house, the claimant fell off a ladder and sustained significant injuries to his neck and back. After the fall, the respondent’s brother transported him to the hospital in his personal automobile and let him stay at his home for two weeks, offering to pay him $200 per week, as well as transported him to and from medical appointments.

The conclusions reached by the trial commissioner focused around the, “applicability of the respondent’s defense that the claimant’s injury was statutorily deemed noncompensable.” The commissioner found that the, “twenty-six (26) hour rule” of employment embodied in the provisions of Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 31-275(9)(B)(iv) does not apply to the circumstances of the claim, regardless of the respondent’s original intent. Additionally, the Commissioner found that the respondents were in the business of commercial property management, and therefore could not deprive the claimant of employee status under the provisions of Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 31-275(9) (B) (ii), by claiming that the employment of the claimant was “casual”, or that it was, “other than for the purposes of the employer’s trade or business.”

In reviewing this appeal, the CRB cited State v. Kevalis, 313 Conn. 590 (2014) in stating the appropriate standard for interpreting a statute. In said case, the Supreme Court stated the court, “must first consider the text of the statute and its relationship to other statutes to determine the meaning”, and that, “the test to determine ambiguity is whether the statute, when read in context, is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation.” Derrane v. Hartford, 295 Conn. 35 (2010) was also cited interpreting the terms of Chapter 568, in which it was stated that, “When a statute is not plain and unambiguous, we also look for interpretive guidance to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment.” These rulings come into play, because the appellant selectively chose to incorporate the definition of a “private dwelling” from a statute entitled, “Discriminatory Housing Practices: Definitions”, which would have absolved him from providing compensation to the claimant. Therefore, the CRB rejected that claim in favor of court precedence and conformity in the context of statutes passed by the legislature, and stated that acceptance of the respondent’s interpretation would have led to the invalidation and to, “absurd or unworkable results.”

When addressing the other part of the appeal regarding incorporation of the 26 hour rule, the CRB stated that in Smith v. Yurkovsky, 265 Conn. 816 (2003), the legislative history of the passage of the 26-hour rule trumped a verbatim reading of it in a selective context. That case instead cited the 1961 Public Acts which including exemptions for those working on the “premises” of a private dwelling for less than 26 hours or 3 days per week. The CRB further validated its claim of “premises” by citing Perun v. Danbury, 5651 CRB-7-11-5 (May 15, 2012), in which the word “abode”, and “premises”, were deemed congruent with “curtilage.” Thus, the line of demarcation for injuries sustained, “at or about a dwelling,” now included the yard or other structures on the property. Lastly, the CRB proved that the injuries in fact occurred at a commercial property, and not a private dwelling as claimed by citing precedent in Davis v. Edward J. Corrigan, 4024 CRB-2-99-3(July 20,2000) in which the claim that the site of the injury was a, “private dwelling”, was denied, because the CRB found that, not unlike the respondent, “the employer is an experienced businessman and real estate developer, who would purchase dilapidated buildings with the intent to refurbish them.” Therefore, the respondent’s appeals were denied, the statutory exemption for Chapter 568 was not granted, and the original finding was upheld in which the respondents were ordered to pay the Award to the claimant.

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