MARTIN DERRANE v. CITY OF HARTFORD et al., SC 18340

Compensation Review Board

 

Workers' Compensation; Whether Municipality that Provides Firefighting Assistance to Another Municipality is Entitled to Reimbursement for Workers' Compensation Benefits Paid to an Injured Firefighter. On May 17, 2004, the town of West Hartford, pursuant to a "mutual aid agreement," requested assistance from the city of Hartford in fighting a large fire. The claimant, a Hartford firefighter, was ordered by his superior to assist the West Hartford fire department in fighting the fire. During the course of performing his firefighting duties, the claimant injured his hand. Subsequently, Hartford, pursuant to General Statutes 7-433d, sought reimbursement from West Hartford for the workers' compensation benefits that it had paid to the claimant. Section 7-433d provides that any firefighter "who offers his services to an officer or person in charge of another fire company which is actively engaged in fire duties, and whose services are accepted by such officer or person, shall be entitled to receive [workers' compensation] benefits" for any injuries sustained from the municipality "for which such services were performed." The trial commissioner concluded that Hartford was entitled to reimbursement pursuant to 7-433d, and West Hartford appealed to the compensation review board (board). It claimed that Hartford was not entitled to reimbursement under 7-433d because the claimant's superior, and not the claimant himself, "offer[ed] [the claimant's] services to an officer or person in charge of" the West Hartford fire department. The board agreed with West Hartford and reversed the commissioner's decision, concluding that Hartford was not entitled to reimbursement of workers' compensation benefits because the claimant did not "offer his services" to the West Hartford fire department within the meaning of 7-433d. On appeal, Hartford challenges the board's interpretation of 7-433d. It claims that the board's conclusion that 7-433d is only applicable where a firefighter personally offers his services to another fire department would make the statute unworkable since any offer of services at the fire scene would be made by the officer in charge of the firefighting crew, and not by the individual members of the crew. Additionally, Hartford claims that policy considerations also support holding a municipality who is the recipient of firefighting assistance under a mutual aid agreement responsible under 7-433d for injuries sustained by a firefighter from the municipality providing the assistance. Specifically, Hartford maintains that, because the commanding officer at the fire scene is from the municipality receiving the aid, it stands to reason that that municipality should be responsible for injuries sustained by firefighters responding to a mutual aid call. A contrary interpretation, Hartford opines, would prompt larger municipalities to refrain from providing mutual aid because of the fear that they would be held responsible for workers' compensation benefits for firefighters injured while fighting fires in other municipalities.