Compensation Review Board


Workers' Compensation; Whether Trial Commissioner Improperly Relied Upon Medical Reports Authored by Plaintiff's Orthopedic Surgeon in Determining that Plaintiff's Knee Injury was Compensable; Whether Trial Commissioner Improperly Awarded Plaintiff Total Incapacity Benefits After she had Entered Into a Voluntary Agreement for Permanent Partial Disability Benefits. The plaintiff was employed by the defendant, Prometheus Pharmacy, when she injured her right elbow at her place of work. She later suffered an injury to her right knee while she was in her home. Thereafter, the plaintiff began to receive permanent partial disability benefits for the injury to her elbow by virtue of a voluntary agreement. A hearing was subsequently scheduled before a workers' compensation commissioner during which the plaintiff sought total incapacity benefits. The trial commissioner determined that the plaintiff's knee injury was compensable and that she was entitled to total incapacity benefits. The defendants appealed to the workers' compensation review board, which affirmed the trial commissioner's findings. On appeal to the Appellate Court, the defendants argued that the trial commissioner improperly concluded that because the plaintiff's knee injury was causally related to the arm injury, the knee injury was compensable. They also claimed that the plaintiff was not entitled to total incapacity benefits. With regard to the defendants' first claim, the Appellate Court (105 Conn. App. 669) determined that the plaintiff bore the burden of providing the trial commissioner with competent expert medical evidence on the issue of causation and that the plaintiff attempted to provide such evidence by presenting certain medical reports from her orthopedic surgeon, Vincent Santoro. It then concluded that although these reports were uncontradicted, they did not constitute competent evidence because they were grounded in speculation and conjecture. The court explained that while the reports concluded that the knee injury was causally linked to the compensable arm injury, they did not provide any supporting medical facts from which medical causation could reasonably be inferred. Accordingly, the court set aside the trial commissioner's finding that the knee injury was compensable. The court next rejected the defendants' claim that the plaintiff was not entitled to total incapacity benefits, concluding that the evidence was sufficient to establish that the condition of the plaintiff's right arm had worsened from the time that she had entered into the voluntary agreement, and, therefore, a modification of the voluntary agreement was warranted under General Statutes 31-315. The court also rejected the defendants' claim that because the plaintiff did not actively seek employment, she failed to demonstrate that she had a diminished earning capacity, and, therefore, she was not entitled to total incapacity benefits. In doing so, the court held that the plaintiff successfully established that she was truly unemployable by way of medical evidence and the testimony of a nonphysician vocational rehabilitation expert. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court's conclusions were proper.