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06/24/77 ROQUE PENA'S CASE

June 24, 1977

ROQUE PENA'S CASE


Suffolk. Certification to the Superior Court of a decision by the Industrial Accident Board under the Workmen's Compensation Act. The case was heard by Hayer, J.

Keville, Armstrong, & Brown, JJ.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Workmen's Compensation Act, What insurer liable, Notice, Finding by Industrial Accident Board.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brown

In a workmen's compensation case, where there was ample expert opinion testimony to warrant a finding that an employee's previous back injury was aggravated by work at his later place of employment, there was no error in holding the later employer's insurer liable for the entire compensation. [454]

In a workmen's compensation case, there was no merit in the insurer's argument that the record was insufficient to establish a causal relationship between the employee's disability and his employment. [454]

Where the Industrial Accident Board failed to make specific findings to support its Conclusion that an insurer was not prejudiced by an employee's failure to give the insurer prompt notice of his claim, the case was remanded to the board for further findings. [455-457]

This is an appeal by Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co. (the insurer) from a judgment of the Superior Court awarding workmen's compensation to the employee. This action was originally heard by a single member who made findings favorable to the employee. The reviewing board issued its decision affirming, adopting, and supplementing the findings of the single member. On appeal a Superior Court Judge recommitted the case to the board for several purposes, including the one that the board "make specific findings of subsidiary fact with respect to the issue of prejudice to the insurer by the delay in notice and late filing of claim." The board recommitted the case to the single member, who issued a second decision favorable to the employee. The reviewing board affirmed that decision and ordered the insurers to pay the employee compensation. A judgment was entered in the Superior Court affirming the board's decision. The insurer appeals from that judgment.

As part of his original decision the single member made the following findings of fact. The employee was employed at the Murray Brothers Tanning Co., Inc. (Murray Brothers), from August, 1969, to January 17, 1970. In November, 1969, while working for Murray Brothers, the employee pulled a large piece of leather weighing about twenty-five pounds from a box; he slipped and fell backwards against a box, hitting himself at the waistline. Although in great pain, he finished out the day. The next day he stayed in bed. He then consulted a doctor. He remained out of work for two weeks because he had pain in his back and left leg. When Murray Brothers closed on January 17, 1970, he received unemployment compensation for three weeks.

The employee began working for the Sutherland Foundry, Inc. (Sutherland), on April 5, 1970. His work at Sutherland consisted principally of shoveling sand with a shorthandled shovel for periods of up to eight hours a day. A shovel full of sand weighed up to ten pounds. The employee worked at Sutherland for about two months and was then given a vacation of one week. He could not return to work because of his back pain. In September, 1971, he underwent a laminectomy, but the surgery did not help him. He still has pain in his back and leg and is unable to work.

The employee's doctor, Ronald F. Kaplan, testified, and the single member found, that the employee sustained an injury on November 2, 1969, while working for Murray Brothers. The injury was aggravated by the employee's work at Sutherland, causing the employee to be totally disabled from June 23, 1970. Dr. Kaplan stated in his report of November 15, 1972, and the single member found, that the employee still had a nerve root irritation. The employee had "reached an end result." The employee had a forty percent loss of function in his back and a thirty percent loss of function in both extremities.

At the original hearing the single member stated that the employee failed to give timely notice of his later injury to Sutherland, but that the insurer was not prejudiced by this nor by the employee's failure to file a timely claim. Although the single member made no finding as to the exact date the employee gave notice of that injury and filed his claim, Sutherland's foreman testified that he first learned of the injury when the insurer telephoned him on April 12, 1972, to verify the fact that the employee had worked at Sutherland. Following the recommittal of the case to the single member by the Superior Court and reviewing board, the single member supplemented his findings on this issue as follows. He found that within two or three weeks after stopping work at Sutherland the employee consulted Dr. Ralph Lepore. Shortly thereafter he was referred to Dr. George M. Hazel and Dr. Peter H. Dillard. He later underwent back surgery. The single member added that the insurer had available to it many medical reports which it could use to defend its position. The single member also found that the president and the foreman of Sutherland had either full knowledge or an opportunity to know of the conditions under which the employee worked.

1. The board's decision as to whether the employee's injury was causally related to his work at Sutherland must be sustained "unless . . . wholly lacking in evidential support or tainted by error of law . . . ." Hachadourian's Case, 340 Mass. 81, 85 (1959). There was ample expert opinion testimony to warrant the finding that the employee's previous back injury was aggravated by work at Sutherland, his last place of employment. Compare Trombetta's Case, 1 Mass. App. Ct. 102 (1973). Therefore, no error was committed in holding Sutherland's insurer liable under the rule that "the insurer covering the risk at the time of the most recent injury bearing a causal relation to the disability must pay the entire compensation." Trombetta's Case, supra, at 104, citing Evan's Case, 299 Mass. 435, 438 (1938).

2. The insurer's argument that the record is insufficient to establish a causal relationship between the employee's loss of bodily function and disfigurement, found compensable by the board under G. L. c. 152, ยง 36, as appearing in St. 1972, c. 741, ...


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