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Appeal of Phillips

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

August 21, 2013

Appeal of Thomas Phillips (New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board)

Argued March 13, 2013.

Page 1084

Compensation Appeals Board.

Wadleigh, Starr & Peters, P.L.L.C., of Manchester ( Michael R. Mortimer and Emily G. Bolton on the brief, and Mr. Mortimer orally), for Thomas Phillips.

Bernard & Merrill, PLLC, of Manchester ( Andrew A. Merrill and Gary S. Harding on the brief, and Mr. Merrill orally), for State Farm Fire & Casualty Company.

BASSETT, J. DALIANIS, C.J., and HICKS, CONBOY and LYNN, JJ., concurred.

OPINION

Page 1085

Bassett, J.

The petitioner, Thomas Phillips, appeals a decision of the New Hampshire Compensation Appeals Board (CAB) denying him recovery under the Workers' Compensation Law. See RSA ch. 281-A (2010 & Supp. 2012). The CAB ruled that the petitioner was not entitled to benefits because he had failed to timely notify his employers, Norman and Diane Crocker, of his workers' compensation claim. See RSA 281-A:19 (2010). The CAB further ruled that the petitioner was not entitled to benefits because, unbeknownst to the Crockers, he was intoxicated at the time of his injury. See RSA 281-A:14 (2010). We affirm in part, reverse in part, vacate in part, and remand.

The CAB found or the record supports the following facts. In 2006, the petitioner and his wife lived in a trailer that they rented from the Crockers. As part of the lease agreement, the petitioner performed yard work and minor home repairs for the Crockers in exchange for a rent reduction. The Crockers lived on the abutting property.

On August 11, 2006, Mr. Crocker asked the petitioner to remove the branch of a tree that was growing near the Crockers' house. The next day, the petitioner fell from a ladder while cutting the branch with a chainsaw. No one witnessed the petitioner's fall. The petitioner's wife found him shortly after he fell, and she

Page 1086

immediately summoned the Crockers. Mr. Crocker later stated that " it seem[ed] the branch snapped in half causing [the petitioner] to [lose] his balance and he fell." The petitioner was taken to the hospital, where it was determined that he had a blood alcohol content of approximately .27. As a result of the fall, the petitioner was rendered a quadriplegic.

[165 N.H. 229] Nearly three years later, on August 10, 2009, the petitioner filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits, identifying the Crockers as his employer. The Crockers were insured under a homeowner's insurance policy issued by State Farm Fire and Casualty Company (State Farm) that included workers' compensation coverage for domestic employees. See RSA 281-A:6 (2010) (requiring all insurance companies that provide homeowner's insurance to provide workers' compensation insurance covering the domestic employees of the insured, unless the insured has arranged for such coverage elsewhere). On August 24, State Farm denied the petitioner workers' compensation benefits on the grounds that: (1) there was no employer-employee relationship; (2) the petitioner's injury was not causally related to employment; (3) the petitioner was at fault for his injury; and (4) the petitioner's notice of injury to the Crockers was untimely. Thereafter, the petitioner requested a hearing with the New Hampshire Department of Labor (DOL). The DOL Hearing Officer determined that the petitioner was entitled to workers' compensation benefits. State Farm appealed to the CAB.

After a de novo hearing, the CAB determined that the petitioner was an employee of the Crockers at the time of his injury. However, the CAB denied the petitioner's claim, finding that his claim was barred pursuant to RSA 281-A:19 and RSA 281-A:20 (2010) because he failed to provide timely notice of his injury to the Crockers. The CAB further found that the petitioner was intoxicated at the time of the injury. Because the CAB also found that the Crockers did not know that he was intoxicated when he fell, it determined that they were not liable for workers' compensation payments. See RSA 281-A:14. The petitioner's motion for reconsideration was denied, and this appeal followed.

The petitioner makes two arguments on appeal. First, he argues that, because the Crockers had actual, timely notice of his injury, the CAB erred in ruling that his claim was barred under RSA 281-A:19 and RSA 281-A:20. The petitioner next argues that the CAB erred in ...


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