Olwell v. State of Connecticut, Department of Developmental Services
Recent case law on total disability establishes that to award benefits under Chapter 568, a trial commissioner must ascertain if a claimant's disability is a sequalae of their work-related injury. Annie Olwell, a registered nurse employed by the Connecticut Department of Developmental Services, sustained compensable injuries to her ankles and back in 2001 and to her left shoulder in 2005. She testified to being bed ridden 23 hours per day. Her treating physicians both opined that Olwell was totally and temporarily disabled since 2009. Two commissioner's examinations occurred. Dr. Gordon Zimmerman assigned Olwell a light sedentary work capacity. Dr. Enzo Sella opined that Olwell had reached medical maximum improvement with a 5 percent impairment rating to the left ankle, a 15 percent impairment rating to the left shoulder and no impairment to the back. Dr. Sella testified that Olwell was unemployable and totally disabled from unrelated health conditions, "namely, multiple sclerosis, severe depression and psychosocial problems." The trial commissioner made credibility determinations and concluded that Olwell did not prove she was totally disabled as a result of her compensable injuries. The claimant appealed contending that the evidence presented to the commissioner was inconsistent with her legal conclusions. The Compensation Review Board affirmed the finding and denial. The central dispute was not whether the claimant was totally disabled, the issue was whether this disability resulted from the compensable injuries sustained. A claimant must prove that their compensable ailment was a substantial factor in their current disability. The commissioner found evidence persuasive that the claimant's present disability was due to factors other than her compensable injuries. This conclusion was supported by the evidence. Sella testified that the compensable injuries would not have taken away Olwell's work capacity but, other issues prevented her from working. The claimant argued that Sella's testimony on depression and psychosocial issues should have been discounted given Sella's lack of expertise in psychology. The board concluded that Sella had sufficient familiarity with the claimant's condition to opine that matters other than the compensable injuries were the substantial factor behind her present disability. The board declined to reweigh Sella's testimony.