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Felia v. Town of Westport

Supreme Court of Connecticut

March 13, 1990

Stephen FELIA

Argued Feb. 8, 1990.

Michael S. Lynch, Danbury, for appellant (defendant).

Page 90

Gerald F. Stevens, Milford, with whom was Kristen Durney, for appellee (plaintiff).


[214 Conn. 182] PETERS, Chief Justice.

This appeal concerns the construction of that portion of General Statutes § 7-433c, [1] the Heart [214 Conn. 183] and Hypertension Act, that entitles disabled members of municipal police and fire departments to receive "compensation and medical care in the same amount and the same manner as that provided under chapter 568," the Workers' Compensation Act. On the basis of stipulated facts, a workers' compensation commissioner determined that the plaintiff, Stephen Felia, was entitled to an award for permanent partial impairment of his cardiovascular system. The commissioner's determination was upheld by the compensation review division, which expressly rejected the contention of the defendant, the town of Westport, that § 7-433c precluded such an award. The defendant appealed to the Appellate Court and we transferred that appeal here pursuant to Practice Book § 4023. We find no error.

As stipulated, the plaintiff was a regular member of the paid municipal fire department of the defendant town of Westport, who had passed the requisite physical examination at the time of his employment. Because the plaintiff thereafter manifested symptoms of heart disease and hypertension, a compensation commissioner on April 29, 1985, awarded him benefits under § 7-433c and related medical expenses. Consequently, the plaintiff qualified for a disability retirement from the Westport fire department on September 1, 1985, and has received a disability pension since that time.

[214 Conn. 184] A further medical examination, on April 21, 1986, found the plaintiff to have a

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17 percent permanent impairment of his cardiovascular system. On this basis, which the defendant did not contest factually, the compensation commissioner ordered the payment of a supplemental award, under General Statutes § 31-308(d), of "132.6 weeks of specific benefits at his compensation rate together with any appropriate adjustments and subject to lawful limitations." The total amount payable to the plaintiff, pursuant to this supplemental award and to his disability pension, does not exceed 100 percent of the weekly compensation being paid to comparable firefighters in the Westport fire department. See General Statutes § 7-433b(b). [2]

In its appeal to the compensation review division, the defendant contended that § 7-433c limits the scope of a plaintiff's compensation for cardiovascular impairment to the recovery of economic loss, and thus precludes, as a matter of law, an award of special benefits under § 31-308. The review division disagreed with this contention, which the defendant renews in its appeal to this court. We find no error.

The history of § 7-433c has often been recounted and needs no further exegesis. As presently enacted, the statute entitles municipal police and fire department personnel, who develop cardiovascular disease at some time subsequent to their initial employment, to recover appropriate benefits without a showing that they incurred the disease in the line of duty. The statute expressly refers to the provisions of chapter 568, the Workers' Compensation Act, as the procedural vehicle[214 Conn. 185] for the administration of § 7-433c benefits. Morgan v. East Haven, 208 Conn. 576, 580-81, 546 A.2d 243 (1988); Bakelaar v. West Haven, 193 Conn. 59, 67-68, 475 A.2d 283 (1984).

The question Before us concerns the scope of the § 7-433c cross reference to chapter 568. The defendant does not contest the proposition that a worker who proves a causal connection between his cardiovascular disability and his assigned duties is entitled to special benefits in addition to pension rights. The defendant contends, however, that § 7-433c intended to confer a more limited recovery upon its beneficiaries. The relevant statutory language affords a § 7-433c claimant the right to "receive from his municipal employer compensation and medical care in the same amount and the same manner as that provided under chapter 568 if such ... disability was caused by a personal injury which arose out of and in the course of his employment and was suffered in the line of duty and within the scope of his employment."

In construing § 7-433c, our task is to discern the apparent intent of the legislature, first by an analysis of the relevant statutory language at issue and thereafter, in the event of any latent ambiguity, by an examination of the statute's legislative history and the purpose it was designed to serve. State v. Grullon, 212 Conn. 195, 199-200, 562 A.2d 481 (1989); Capalbo v. Planning & Zoning Board of Appeals, 208 Conn. 480, 486, 547 A.2d 528 (1988); Rhodes v. Hartford, 201 Conn. 89, 93, 513 A.2d 124 (1986). On its face, the language "compensation ... in the same amount and the same manner" suggests that, once § 7-433c coverage is established, the measurement of the plaintiff's benefits under this statute is identical to the benefits that may be awarded to a plaintiff under chapter 568. We have regularly so held; Collins v. West Haven, 210 Conn. 423, 429-30, 555 A.2d 981 (1989); Lambert v. [214 Conn. 186] Bridgeport, 204 Conn. 563, 566, 529 A.2d 184 (1987); Maciejewski v. West Hartford, 194 Conn. 139, 146, 480 A.2d 519 (1984); Bakelaar v. West Haven, supra, 193 Conn. at 68-69, 475 A.2d 283, as has the Appellate Court. Lundgren v. Stratford, 12 Conn.App. 138, 144, 530 A.2d 183 (1987); Middletown v. Local 1073, 1 Conn.App. 58, 61, 65, 467 A.2d 1258 (1983), cert.

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dismissed, 192 Conn. 803, 471 A.2d 244 (1984). Such a construction of § 7-433c is consistent with its legislative history. See especially 20 H.R. Proc., Pt. 5, 1977 Sess., pp. 1816-17, remarks of Representative Samuel Gejdenson. The compensation review division's rejection of the defendant's claim of error thus finds considerable support in our existing law.

To counter this plausible construction of § 7-433c, the defendant relies on the phrase "economic loss" in the statute's preamble. The preamble notes the public interest in providing protection to municipal firefighters and police officers because of their occupational risk of developing cardiovascular disease. In light of these special occupational hazards, the preamble states the desirability of providing protection for such municipal employees "against economic loss resulting from disability or death caused by hypertension or heart disease." According to the defendant, the preamble's emphasis on "economic loss" is a limitation on the subsequent substantive provision, in § 7-433c, which describes the benefits it confers as ...

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