THOMAS ZIPOLI, CLAIMANT-APPELLEE vs. TOWN OF WATERTOWN BOARD OF EDUCATION, EMPLOYER and TRAVELERS INSURANCE COMPANY, INSURER, RESPONDENTS-APPELLANTS

CASE NO. 215 CRD-5-83Workers’ Compensation Commission
JANUARY 17, 1986

The Claimant was represented by Edward T. Dodd, Jr., Esq.

The Respondents were represented by Robert E. Beach, Jr., Esq.

This Petition for Review from the March 10, 1983 Finding and Award of the Commissioner at Large, Acting for the Fifth District, was argued January 27, 1984 before a Compensation Review Division panel consisting of the Commission Chairman, John Arcudi and Commissioners Rhoda Loeb and Andrew Denuzze.

FINDING AND AWARD

1-31. Paragraph 1 through 31 of the trial Commissioner’s Finding are made paragraphs 1 through 31 of this Division’s Finding.

32. Claimant was absent from work for more than four weeks in the last month of 1980; but after resuming teaching in January, 1981, he ceased work completely March 26, 1981 after seeing for the first time the complaint letters which had preceded the September, 1980 Board or Education Hearing.

33-34. Paragraphs 33 and 34 of the trial Commissioner’s Finding are made paragraphs 33 and 34 of this Division’s Finding.

35. Dr. Newman concluded that claimant’s problems were twofold: 1) an enormously stressful situation at the school where he was working and 2) his wife’s illness which was considerably less stressful than the school work stress.

36. Dr. Newman further concluded that claimant’s condition was totally disabling and that the chief course of the disability was the situation at work.

37. In a written report submitted in evidence Dr. Anthony described claimant’s symptoms as of March 26, 1981 to be severe nervousness, depression, headaches, dizziness, a faint feeling, nausea, shortness of breath, chest pain when under tension, and elevated blood pressure.

38. Dr. Anthony concluded that claimant was unable to work as a teacher and that his then disability was caused substantially because of his work as a school teacher.

39-44. Paragraphs 35 through 40 of the trial Commissioner’s Finding are made paragraphs 39 through 44 of this Division’s Finding.

WHEREFORE IT IS ORDERED, AWARDED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that:

A. Respondent pay the claimant all of the benefits of Chapter 568, Connecticut General Statutes together with appropriate adjustments and subject to lawful limitations.

OPINION

JOHN ARCUDI, Chairman.

Occupationally caused mental disabilities are today receiving greatly increased attention in workers’ compensation forums throughout the country. This matter concerns such a disability. The claimant who completed college in 1954 was employed as an educator in the army and at various schools before commencing employment as a teacher in the Watertown public school system in 1964.

His early years in the Watertown employment earned him evaluation ratings that ranged from average to above average. But difficulties began to surface and came to a head in when several parents wrote to the school board asking that their children not be placed in the claimant’s class. Their letters caused the Board of Education to hold a hearing in September, 1980 on these parents’ complaints.

Claimant was present at the hearing but was never notified of any action taken by the Board or Superintendent as a result of the parents’ letters or their publicly voiced complaints at the hearing. However, the matter so affected the claimant that he was caused to seek medical attention from Dr. Joseph Anthony, a Waterbury cardiologist, who concluded claimant was unable to work in the Spring of 1981 due to his hypertension, angina, and serious depression and that his disability was caused by his work situation.

Dr. Anthony referred claimant to Dr. Richard T. Newman, a Waterbury psychiatrist, who saw claimant until October, 1981 when Dr. Diego Rodriguez, another psychiatrist took over treatment as Dr. Newman had had a heart attack. Dr. Newman found that claimant had suffered a serious depression, with secondary paranoid thinking including homicidal tendencies. Dr. Newman agreed with Dr. Anthony that claimant was disabled from work and that the major cause of this disability was his stressful job situation at school.

In October, 1980 claimant’s wife was diagnosed as suffering from leukemia. This disease seemed in remission when Dr. Newman first saw claimant. The doctor felt that her disease contributed to claimant’s symptoms but that the major cause of those symptoms was the work situation stress, a stress antedating the knowledge of the wife’s eventually fatal illness. Claimant’s wife died in November, 1981.

The Commissioner at Large who heard the matter after recusation of the Fifth District Commissioner ruled that claimant’s disability was compensable. In its appeal Respondent Board has sought various corrections to the Finding some of which we have granted. However, the appeal’s main thrust seems to question whether any mental disability caused by job stress can be compensable in our workers’ compensation system. A second argument questions the sufficiency of proximate causation in the matter.

The Respondent Board’s brief reasons that claimant’s disability cannot be compensable since it does not fall into any of the personal injury categories defined in 31-275, C.G.S.[1] , accidental injury, occupational disease or repetitive trauma. It is true that the Commissioner’s Finding failed to list the subordinate facts upon which he based his conclusion of compensability. However, there was evidence before him from Dr. Newman which supported that conclusion, and we have corrected his Finding to include references to that evidence.

Respondent’s argument relies heavily on decisions from other jurisdictions. The venerable Connecticut precedent for mental illness cases, Wilder v. Russell Library Co., 107 Conn. 56
(1927) gets only a sidelong glance in the second part of its brief, that dealing with the proximate causation Reason of Appeal. That opinion written by the then Justice William M. Maltbie deserves greater attention. Its language seems highly relevant to the instant matter. Thus: “The worry, anxiety and excessive nervous and mental activity in connection with the library work were all contributing factors in the ultimate mental breakdown. Her physical, mental and nervous disorders were all attributable to that work and traceable to her employment.” Wilder v. Russell Library, supra, 60-61.

When Justice Maltbie wrote those words in 1927, the personal injury categories under the worker compensation law in 1927 only included accidental injury and occupational disease. The opinion indicated in a later paragraph that there was no traumatic injury involved in the Wilder disability and death. Hence, the only injury category then applicable was that of occupational disease.

It is true that the occupational disease definition applicable to Wilder was broader that, that later adopted by the 1927 legislature. However, as demonstrated in Cortes v. Allegheny Ludlum Steel Corp., 61-CRD-3-81, 1 Conn. Workers’ Comp. Review Op. 173 (1982) citing Glodenis v. American Brass Co., 118 Conn. 29 (1934) and LeLenko v. Wilson H. Lee Co., 128 Conn. 499 (1942) prevailing case law interprets occupational disease quite broadly. The words “peculiar to the occupation” and “in excess of the ordinary hazards of employment” do not have the extremely limited and narrow significance respondent adopted in its brief.

In its proximate causation argument, appellant cites Dehron v. Clark, 122 Conn. 592 (1937). That case involved multiple causative factors and the court found that there was insufficient evidence that the work related cause was a substantial factor in producing the disabling result. But in the instant matter there was considerable evidence from the two doctors already referred to that the work related factors were the principal causal agencies. This evidence was more than sufficient to satisfy the classic rules for proximate causation set down in Mahoney v. Beatman, 110 Conn. 184 (1929).

As we find the evidence sufficient to sustain the conclusion that a compensable personal injury occurred, the decision of the Commissioner below is affirmed and the appeal is dismissed.

Commissioners Rhoda Loeb and Andrew Denuzze concur in this opinion.

[1] Sec. 31-275. (8) “Personal injury,” or “injury,” as the same is used in this chapter, shall be construed to include, in addition to accidental injury which may be definitely located as to the time when and the place where the accident occurred, an injury to an employee which is causally connected with his employment and is the direct result of repetitive trauma or repetitive acts incident to such employment, and occupational disease herein defined . . . (11) “Occupational disease” includes any disease peculiar to the occupation in which the employee was engaged and due to causes in excess of the ordinary hazards of employment as such and includes any disease due to or attributable to exposure to or contact with any radioactive by an employee in the course of his employment.