While the blog takes a few days off, my colleague Mick Lavelle has this update on a notable Connecticut case.
Accidents and injuries are unfortunately a fact of life in the workplace, especially on industrial or construction sites. But there are rarely any personal injury lawsuits by employees against their employers.
That is because long ago, workers compensation laws (which originated in the 19th century) created a fundamental trade-off.
In return for a guarantee of funds provided by insurance to pay for medical bills and continuation of earnings, employees would have no right the sue their employers in civil court. Employees gave up the larger damages available in personal injury lawsuits in order to have immediate payment and to be protected against insolvent employers.
This trade-off is known as the exclusivity rule of workers compensation.
In a case in the 1990’s called Suarez v. Dickmont Plastics Corporation, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that the exclusivity rule won’t protect an employer who deliberately rigs the workplace to harm an employee, or who may as well have intended to harm an employee because a lack safety is so egregious that an injury in inevitable. The employer won those cases, but injured employees still occasionally attempt lawsuits to add personal injury damages to workers comp benefits.
The latest case to reached the Supreme Court is Motzer v. Habertli (download here), a case that will be officially released next week.
In Motzer, an apprentice electrician helping to run some wiring though a floor stuck his finger into a hole just as another apprentice was drilling into the other end, amputating the finger tip. The employee claimed that turning two apprentices loose with power tools and without adult supervision was bound to result in an accident, but the Court said that a failure to train or properly supervise does not rise to the level of an intention to harm. The lack of supervision was not the legal cause of the injury.
So the exclusivity rule remains viable, although it does not prevent these lawsuits from being attempted from time to time.