Board of the Employee Retirement System of the City of
Petitioner: Joseph F. Penza, Jr., Esq. John D. Meara, Esq.
Respondent: Kenneth B. Chiavarini, Esq.
Present: SUTTELL, C.J., GOLDBERG, FLAHERTY, ROBINSON, and
MAUREEN MCKENNA GOLDBERG Associate Justice.
petitioner, Patrizia Prew (Prew), filed a petition for a writ
of certiorari seeking review of a decision by the City of
Providence (city) Retirement Board (board) that denied her
application for accidental-disability retirement. This Court
granted the petition, and this case came before the Supreme
Court for oral argument on March 2, 2016, pursuant to an
order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the
issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided.
Having carefully considered the memoranda submitted by the
parties and the arguments of counsel, we are satisfied that
cause has not been shown, and the appeal may be decided at
this time. We quash the decision of the board.
March 5, 2013, Prew, who held the rank of detective after
more than fifteen years of service in the Providence Police
Department, injured her right hand and wrist as she attempted
to detain a juvenile following a disturbance outside his
school. Thereafter, her status was "injured on duty,
" and she was diagnosed with post-traumatic carpal
tunnel syndrome. Her physician recommended surgery, but, due
to a fear of surgical complications, Prew opted against
surgery and elected treatment with nonsurgical measures.
August 2013, Prew underwent a series of tests to determine
whether her injury interfered with her ability to handle a
firearm. It did. The Providence Police Department concluded
that Prew no longer could operate a firearm safely and took
possession of her service weapon. Later that month, on August
23, Prew applied to the board for accidental-disability
accordance with the applicable ordinance, Prew was evaluated
by three independent medical examiners (IMEs) who were
retained by the board. In letters mailed from the city's
human resources department, they were asked to determine
whether Prew had a disability and if so, whether the
disability was "caused by an accident while on the
performance of * * * her duty." The letters further
requested that, should the IMEs deem Prew to have a
work-related disability, the IMEs submit "a statement as
to whether [Prew] can perform the duties of * * * her job. If
not, a statement as to what work [Prew] can
perform." The IMEs also were asked for "[a]
statement concerning prognosis, the necessity of further
treatment, and expectation of return to work."
three IMEs diagnosed Prew with right carpal tunnel syndrome,
which each found to be causally related to her on-the-job
injury. The records reflect that, during their examinations,
each IME informed Prew about the benefits of surgical release
of the carpal tunnel, but Prew declined this course of
treatment. Michael P. Bradley, M.D., concluded that, although
he could not "guarantee" improvement, surgery is
the best course of treatment and, without it, Prew is
"rendered * * * completely disabled" and unable to
work. Philip J. Reilly, M.D., reported to the city that Prew
will be unable to perform her duties as a detective "so
long as she elects to proceed on a conservative path and
avoid surgery." Manuel F. DaSilva, M.D., determined that
Prew "is currently partially disabled, unable to perform
her full[-]duty job requirements." He further opined
"It is well proven that carpal tunnel release done by a
certified hand surgeon has a 90% to 95% success rate with
improvement even if not complete improvement of the symptoms.
This means that the vast majority of people are able to go
back to their occupation. * * * I find it very difficult for
me to agree that [Prew] is unable to do her job due to the
fact that she has one of the most treatable ailments that we
see in the hand."
23, 2014, the board voted to deny Prew's application for
accidental-disability retirement. In its written decision,
issued on August 14, 2014, the board stated:
"The evidence provided does not establish that Prew is
incapacitated for the performance of her job duties if she
elects not to have surgery to release the carpal tunnel of
her right wrist. Prew, who would otherwise be found
permanently disabled, failed without justifiable cause to
follow the treatment prescribed by her treating physician.
"* * * The record * * * indicates that Prew's
condition is easily correctable with a surgical release of
the carpal tunnel and, by virtue of her 'failure' to
follow prescribed treatment, she cannot be found disabled. As
a result, the [b]oard denies Prew's [a]pplication due to
her failure to follow prescribed medical treatment and her
failure to mitigate an injury resulting in a permanent
filed a petition for a writ of certiorari on October 6, 2014,
which was ...