Ritch v. Connecticut Materials Testing Labs
A trial commissioner must not arrive at his or her decision based on "speculation or conjecture," as explained in the 2009 Supreme Court case of DiNuzzo v. Dan Perkins Chevrolet Geo, Inc. David Ritch, employed by Connecticut Materials Testing Labs as a senior field technician, fell into a manhole with a loose cover while inspecting a worksite. He was treated at a hospital, diagnosed with left knee internal derangement and, eventually, underwent two knee surgeries. Ritch began treating for low back pain 19 months post injury and surgery was recommended. The respondents, his employer and insurer, The Hartford Insurance Company, contested any link to the compensable injury. Ritch appealed from the trial commissioner’s finding and dismissal, determining that the claimant’s knee, but not back injury, was compensable. The Compensation Review Board affirmed the finding and dismissal and refusal to sanction the employer, finding no meritorious argument that the commissioner erred in determining disability. Ritch challenged approval of the respondents’ Form 36, finding a work capacity and claimed medical witnesses’ opinions as to work capacity should have been credited. The board concluded that the commissioner was presented with a substantial amount of evidence from surveillance footage and testimony regarding the claimant’s activities at a café demonstrating his capabilities. The probative evidence convinced the trial commissioner the claimant did not prove his case. The board could not reverse such a decision. The commissioner found the claimant’s activities inconsistent with his presentation at medical examinations and reasonably could question whether the claimant was honest with his physicians. No prior injuries were reported. The commissioner explained in detail why the commissioner’s examiner’s opinion was discounted. The claimant had not provided credible information. However, commissioners should not include speculative conclusions in their findings. Despite no witness offering such testimony, the commissioner concluded that "[i]t was more likely than not that the claimant suffered some sort of aggravation or injury to his left knee" and digressed from the evidence in finding that "[t]he mechanism of injury is such that an injury to the claimant’s back was unlikely…." The digressions into speculation and conjecture were inappropriate, but unnecessary, and amounted to harmless error.