Peter J. Zezima v. City of Stamford Board of Education Co. 5198 CRB-7-14-3

Summarized by Frank Kachmar; Legal Intern

This was an appeal in which the claimant wanted to reverse the trial commissioner’s dismissal arguing that it was, “against the weight of medical evidence.”

At trial, the Commissioner found a substantial number of inconsistencies in the medical evidence that the claimant provided. The discrepancy arose when it came to light that a January 13, 2009 automobile accident may have caused the claimant’s injury rather than a work-related injury as the result of an assault, which occurred on February 11, 2009. The Commissioner discredited the medical evidence provided by Dr. Moy, Dr. Kavookjian, Dr. Plancher, Dr. Fusco, Dr. Rago and Dr. Dowdle,because the claimant failed to make any of his doctors aware of his prior automobile accident which severely injured his left index finger, the same body part the claimant was claiming as compensable. Therefore, the Commissioner ruled that these statements had to be rejected as incomplete, because during their depositions it was made clear that the claimant withheld information of an automobile accident from his doctors, who had identified the source of the claimant’s injuries otherwise, without a complete medical history.

Curiously, Dr. Fusco testified during his deposition that the letter that he submitted identifying the claimant’s work-related injuries as the cause of degenerative joint disease and worsened osteoarthritis in his left index finger, was actually drafted by the claimant and not by him. Following this revelation, Dr. Fusco’s testimony was disregarded.

In the absence of credible and available medical information, the trial Commissioner considered the medical evidence and testimony of Dr. Tross, the respondent’s medical examiner. The Commissioner found Dr. Tross’s findings as credible, as he was fully aware of the claimant’s medical history, and independently and transparently conducted said examination. The Commissioner also found Dr. Tross’s examination as persuasive, having stated that the, “claimant’s need for surgery was not related to his February 11, 2009 work injury,” and rather that there was significant reason to believe his need for surgery was related to his January 2009 injuries sustained in a personal automobile accident. Therefore, the Commissioner ordered the claim, denied.

On appeal, the CRB extended deference to the decision made by the trial commissioner, citing Daniels v. Alexander, 268 Conn. 320,330 (2004). The CRB also stated that they could not overturn the ruling of a trial commissioner unless they are, “without evidentiary support, contrary to the law, or based on unreasonable or impermissible factual inference.” Kish v. Nursing and Home Care, Inc., 207 Conn. 535, 539 (1988).The CRB also upheld the Commissioner’s original review by citing, “The commissioner’s findings of basic facts and his finding as to whether those facts support an inference that the plaintiff’s injury arose from his employment are subject to a highly deferential standard of review.” Blakeslee v. Platt Bros. & Co., 279 Conn. 239, 253-254 (2006). (Emphasis in the original.)

The CRB also drew many parallels between this case, and those that had been recently litigated. Such a case includes, Camp v. Lupin Pharmaceuticals, Inc. 5936 CRB 6-14-06 (April 24, 2015), in which, “The primary focus of the case lay not in whether or not the claimant was involved in an incident while working…rather it was whether the impact of the incident had any material effect which caused or exacerbated the various ailments the claimant had associated with that incident.” The CRB also upheld the ruling of the Commissioner’s original finding by stating that it is “black letter law that it is the trial commissioner’s function to assess the weight and credibility of medical reports and testimony.” O’Reilly v. General Dynamics Corp., 52 Conn. App. 813, 818 (1999). The CRB also stated that if the commissioner found Dr. Tross’s opinion as more credible and persuasive than any of the opinion’s offered by the claimant’s witnesses, than she was, “entitled to rely on this opinion.” Dellacamera v. Waterbury, 4966 CRB-5-05-6 (June 29, 2006).

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