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McCullough v. Swan Engraving, Inc.

Supreme Court of Connecticut

February 2, 2016

JANICE MCCULLOUGH
v.
SWAN ENGRAVING, INC., ET AL

         Argued October 7, 2015.

Page 232

          Appeal from the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commissioner for the Eighth District awarding the plaintiff certain survivor's benefits, brought to the Compensation Review Board, which reversed the decision of the commissioner and remanded the matter for further proceedings, and the plaintiff appealed.

          SYLLABUS

         Pursuant to statute (§ 31-294c [a]), " [n]o proceedings for compensation . . . shall be maintained unless a written notice of claim for compensation is given within one year from the date of the accident or within three years from the first manifestation of a symptom of the occupational disease, as the case may be, which caused the personal injury, provided, if death has resulted within two years from the date of the accident or first manifestation of a symptom of the occupational disease, a dependent or dependents, or the legal representative of the deceased employee, may make claim for compensation within the two-year period or within one year from the date of death, whichever is later. . . ."

         The plaintiff appealed from the decision of the Compensation Review Board reversing the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commissioner awarding the plaintiff certain survivor's benefits following the death of her husband, who had died as a result of exposure to certain toxins during the course of his employment with the named defendant, S Co. The decedent, whose condition was diagnosed in 2000, filed a timely claim for disability benefits in 2002 and died as a result of his condition in 2005. At no time prior to the decedent's death was his claim accepted or were benefits paid thereon. Fifty-five weeks after the decedent's death, the plaintiff filed a claim for survivor's benefits. Thereafter, S Co., its insurer, and the defendant Connecticut Insurance Guaranty Association accepted the decedent's underlying claim for benefits. At a hearing before the commissioner, the defendants claimed that the plaintiff's claim for survivor's benefits was untimely because it was filed more than one year after the decedent's death. The plaintiff claimed that the timely filing and acceptance of the decedent's claim for benefits pursuant to § 31-294c satisfied the limitation period for all potential claims under the Workers' Compensation Act. The commissioner agreed that the plaintiff's claim was timely and ordered the defendants to pay survivor's benefits to her. The defendants appealed from the commissioner's decision to the compensation review board, which concluded that the plaintiff was required to file a separate claim for survivor's benefits within one year from the decedent's death. The review board reversed the decision of the commissioner and remanded the case for further proceedings, and the plaintiff appealed. Held that the review board improperly concluded that the plaintiff had failed to satisfy the requirements of § 31-294c, there being no language in that statute creating a statute of limitations for a claim for survivor's benefits or language requiring a dependent to file a separate claim for survivor's benefits where, as here, the decedent had filed a timely notice of claim for benefits during his lifetime, and this court would not engraft language into § 31-294c requiring a dependent to file a separate claim for survivor's benefits in such a situation because the issue of whether a survivor should be denied benefits on the ground that he or she failed to file a separate notice of claim under the act is for the legislature to decide, not the courts; although the review board previously had read § 31-294c as requiring a survivor to file a separate claim within one year from the decedent's date of death, this court, applying established rules of statutory construction, determined that that interpretation was not supported by the text of § 31-294c and, therefore, was not reasonable and entitled to deference.

         Christopher Meisenkothen, with whom, on the brief, was Catherine Ferrante, for the appellant (plaintiff).

         Joseph J. Passaretti, Jr., with whom was Tushar G. Shah, for the appellees (defendants).

         Robert F. Carter filed a brief for the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association as amicus curiae.

         Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Zarella, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa and Robinson, Js. EVELEIGH, J. In this opinion the other justices concurred.

          OPINION

Page 233

         [320 Conn. 301] EVELEIGH, J.

         The sole issue in this appeal is whether the plaintiff, Janice McCullough, was required to file a separate timely notice of claim for survivor's benefits under the Workers' Compensation Act (act), General Statutes § 31-275 et seq., where her husband, Arthur McCullough (decedent), had filed a timely claim for disability benefits during his lifetime with the defendant Swan Engraving, Inc. (Swan Engraving).[1] The plaintiff appeals from a decision of the Workers' Compensation Review Board (board) reversing the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commissioner (commissioner) awarding the plaintiff survivor's benefits.[2] On appeal, the plaintiff claims that she was not required to file a separate notice of claim for survivor's benefits because the timely filing of any claim for benefits under the act satisfies the limitation period for all potential claims under the act. We agree with the plaintiff and, accordingly, reverse the judgment of the board.

         The relevant, undisputed facts and procedural history are as follows. The plaintiff

Page 234

is the widow and presumptive [320 Conn. 302] dependent of the decedent.[3] The decedent was employed by Swan Engraving from 1970 to 1998 as a photograph engraver. During the course of his employment, he was exposed to toxins through his use of carbon arc lamps. In February, 2000, he was diagnosed with disabling pulmonary fibrosis as a result of his work exposure to toxins. In May, 2002, the decedent filed a timely claim for benefits. After seeking medical treatment for his pulmonary fibrosis, including a lung transplant, the decedent succumbed to his illness and died on March 31, 2005. At no time prior to the decedent's death was the claim accepted or were benefits paid.

         On April 19, 2006, fifty-five weeks after the decedent's death, the plaintiff filed a claim for death and survivor's benefits. Thereafter, the defendants accepted the decedent's underlying claim for benefits and the parties entered into a voluntary agreement as to that claim on February 26, 2013.

         The commissioner conducted a hearing on the plaintiff's claim for survivor benefits. At the hearing, the defendants claimed that the plaintiff's claim for survivor benefits was not timely because it was filed more than one year after the decedent's death and more than six years after the date of the decedent's first manifestation of symptoms of a work-related injury. In response, the plaintiff claimed that the timely filing and acceptance of the decedent's claim for benefits satisfied the limitation period for all potential claims under the act. The commissioner agreed with the plaintiff and determined that her claim for survivor benefits was timely and ordered the defendants to pay survivor's benefits to the plaintiff.

          [320 Conn. 303] The defendants appealed from the commissioner's decision to the board. The defendants challenged the commissioner's finding that the decedent's timely filing of a claim for benefits under the act satisfied the statute of limitations requirement for the plaintiff's claim for survivor's benefits and asserted that the plaintiff was required to file a separate timely claim for benefits within one year from the decedent's death. The board reversed the decision of the commissioner, concluding that the statutory scheme requires a dependent filing for survivor's benefits to file a separate claim and that " claims under [General Statutes] § 31-306[4] . . . must be commenced under the time limitations of [General Statutes] § 31-294c[5] . . . subject to the limited exceptions

Page 235

expressly provided for under [General Statutes] § 31-306b[6] . . . ." [7] [320 Conn. 304] (Footnotes added.) ...


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