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Deschnow v. City of Stamford

Supreme Court of Connecticut

April 3, 1990


Argued March 1, 1990.

Page 346

John W. Greiner, for appellant (defendant).

Gerald F. Stevens, Milford, for appellee (plaintiff).


PETERS, Chief Justice.

This appeal concerns the eligibility of disabled members of municipal police and fire departments, who are entitled to compensation under General Statutes § 7-433c, [1] the Heart and Hypertension [214 Conn. 395] Act, to receive insurance coverage from their municipal employers in accordance with General Statutes § 31-284b(a). [2] On the basis of stipulated facts, a workers'[214 Conn. 396] compensation commissioner determined that the plaintiff, Arthur Deschnow, was entitled to an award of § 31-284b(a) benefits. The defendant, the city of Stamford, unsuccessfully petitioned to have this determination overturned by the compensation review division. The defendant thereafter took a further appeal to the Appellate

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Court, which this court transferred here pursuant to Practice Book § 4023. We find no error.

As stipulated, the plaintiff was a regular member of the fire department of the defendant city, 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 awarded him benefits under § 7-433c and related medical expenses. Subsequently, the plaintiff qualified for a supplemental award, under General Statutes § 31-308(d), of "234 weeks of compensation representing a 30% permanent partial impairment of the cardiovascular system at the rate of $397.00 per week commencing on October 10, 1986...." On September 30, 1987, the plaintiff retired on a work related disability pension because of his heart disease.

Upon the plaintiff's retirement, the defendant discontinued the plaintiff's fringe benefits with regard to [214 Conn. 397] health and life insurance. Other retired Stamford firefighters, whose retirement is unrelated to § 7-433c, are entitled to such insurance in accordance with article XIX of an "Agreement [of the] City of Stamford and Local 786, International Association of Fire Fighters." [3] For an employee who incurs heart disease in the line of duty, § 31-284b(a) mandates that insurance benefits continue to be paid as long as the disabled worker "is eligible to receive or is receiving workers' compensation payments pursuant to ... chapter [568 of the General Statutes]." The defendant maintains, however, that an employee receiving benefits under § 7-433c is not entitled to the same continued insurance benefits.

In Felia v. Westport, 214 Conn. 181, 571 A.2d 89 (1990), this court recently reviewed the relationship between § 7-433c and chapter 568. The crucial legislative instruction in § 7-433c is its provision that a disabled police officer or firefighter is entitled 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." We construed § 7-433c to require that, once § 7-433c coverage is established, the measurement of an employee's economic benefits must be the same as the measure of damages for economic benefits provided to a disabled employee under chapter 568. Id., 185. Further, we held that the economic benefits to which a § 7-433c claimant is entitled include special benefits pursuant to General Statutes § 31-308(d). Id., 186-87.

[214 Conn. 398] Our holding in Felia v. Westport, supra, leaves two questions to be resolved in this case. Generally, may a § 7-433c claimant, who is entitled to recover economic benefits denominated by the statute as "compensation" and "medical care," ever have a claim to recover fringe benefits? Specifically, may a § 7-433c claimant qualify for the fringe benefits provided in § 31-284b? We answer both of these questions in the affirmative.

As a general matter, once it is accepted that "compensation" in § 7-433c is to be measured in accordance with the provisions of chapter 568, we may look to the definitions in chapter 568 for guidance about the scope of "compensation" in § 7-433c. Except for a reference in § 7-433c's preamble to the intent to protect covered firefighters and police officers "against economic loss," § 7-433c contains no definition of "compensation." In chapter 568, however, General Statutes § 31-275(14) defines "income" as "all forms of remuneration to an individual from his employment, including wages, accident and health insurance coverage, life insurance coverage and employee welfare plan contributions." It is appropriate to read these definitions conjointly, because

Page 348

they relate to the same subject matter. Felia v. Westport, supra, 187, 571 A.2d 89; Connecticut Light & Power Co. v. Costle, 179 Conn. 415, 422, 426 A.2d 1324 (1980). Furthermore, the legislature expressly characterized fringe benefits, in § 31-284b(a), as an economic benefit designed "to maintain, as nearly as possible, the income of employees who suffer employment-related injuries." We are, therefore, persuaded that the economic benefits that qualify as "compensation" under § 7-433c may include fringe benefits, in appropriate circumstances.

The defendant contends, however, that the plaintiff in this case has not met the conditions for fringe benefits set by § 31-284b(a). The statute requires a disabled employee to make two showings. He must first establish[214 Conn. 399] that his employer provides "accident and health insurance or life insurance coverage for any employee." Concededly, the provisions of article XIX in the collective bargaining agreement between the defendant and the city firefighters satisfy this requirement. He must then establish that he "is eligible to receive or is receiving workers' compensation pursuant to this chapter." In that regard, the plaintiff's supplemental award in this case, as in Felia v. Westport, supra, is an award of benefits under § 31-308(d). [4] The propriety of this compensation award is uncontested. During the 234 weeks of compensation for his permanent partial cardiovascular ...

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