Bell v. Vecellio & Grogan, Inc., No. 22970

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtRECHT
Citation197 W.Va. 138,475 S.E.2d 138
PartiesGeorge A. BELL, Allison Bell and Jessica Bell, Plaintiffs Below, George A. Bell, Appellant, v. VECELLIO & GROGAN, INC., a West Virginia Corporation, Appellee.
Decision Date17 July 1996
Docket NumberNo. 22970

Page 138

475 S.E.2d 138
197 W.Va. 138
George A. BELL, Allison Bell and Jessica Bell, Plaintiffs Below,
George A. Bell, Appellant,
v.
VECELLIO & GROGAN, INC., a West Virginia Corporation, Appellee.
No. 22970.
Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.
Submitted Feb. 6, 1996.
Decided July 17, 1996.
Syllabus by the Court

1. "It has been a mainstay of Anglo-American jurisprudence that the common law gives way to a specific statute that is inconsistent with it; when a statute is designed as a revision of a whole body of law applicable to a given subject, it supersedes the common law." State ex rel. Riffle v. Ranson, 195 W.Va. 121, 128, 464 S.E.2d 763, 770 (1995).

2. W. Va.Code 23-4-2(c) (1991) represents the wholesale abandonment of the common law tort concept of a deliberate intention cause of action by an employee against an employer, to be replaced by a statutory direct cause of action by an employee against an employer expressed within the workers' compensation system.

3. W. Va.Code 23-4-2(c)(2)(i)-(ii) (1991) has blended within the West Virginia workers' compensation scheme the directive that all employees covered by the West Virginia

Page 139

[197 W.Va. 139] Workers' Compensation Act are subject to every provision of the workers' compensation chapter and are entitled to all benefits and privileges under the Workers' Compensation Act, including the right to file a direct deliberate intention cause of action against an employer pursuant to W. Va.Code 23-4-2(c)(2)(i)-(ii) (1991).

Jack R. Ormes, Pasadena, California and Bruce L. Freeman, Freeman & Chiartas, Charleston, for Appellant.

Mary H. Sanders, James C. Stebbins, Huddleston, Bolen, Beatty, Porter & Copen, Charleston, for Appellee.

RECHT, Justice:

We review for the second time this deliberate intention personal injury claim of a West Virginia ironworker who was injured while working for a West Virginia contractor on a bridge construction site as part of a highway system in Maryland. 1

We are now requested as a matter of first impression to decide whether the "deliberate intention" cause of action expressed within W. Va.Code 23-4-2(c) (1991) 2, 3 is a part of the West Virginia workers' compensation statutory scheme, or whether it is a common law cause of action independent from the workers' compensation laws of this State.

The significance of this question is this: if, as in this case, a plaintiff/employee's deliberate intention claim against the employer is integrated within our workers' compensation system as expressed within W. Va.Code 23-4-2(c) (1991), then the plaintiff is an employee subject to the workers' compensation laws of West Virginia under W. Va.Code 23-2-1a (1991), which includes the right to bring a direct action in this State against the employer pursuant to W. Va.Code 23-4-2(c); if, on the other hand, the deliberate intention cause of action is a common law tort claim that an employee has against the employer, disassociated with the West Virginia workers' compensation scheme, then the ability to maintain that cause of action in a West Virginia court is dependent upon the application of our traditional conflicts of law doctrine of lex loci delicti (which requires application of the law of the place of the wrong), which in this case would require an examination of the laws of the State of Maryland and, according to the trial court, precludes the employee's cause of action. 4

The trial court granted the employer's motion for summary judgment, holding as a matter of law that a deliberate intention cause of action is a common law tort action and, therefore, under the doctrine of lex loci delicti, the substantive law of Maryland would control, which would not permit the employee's direct claim against the employer under the Maryland exclusivity rule. We disagree.

Because we hold that the deliberate intention cause of action expressed within W. Va.Code 23-4-2(c) (1991) supersedes a common law cause of action against an employer and is woven within the workers' compensation fabric in this State, we need not analyze whether the employee's cause of action would

Page 140

[197 W.Va. 140] be recognized in Maryland, which would determine whether the action could be maintained in this State. We hold that the plaintiff's cause of action under W. Va.Code 23-4-2(c) (1991) can be filed and maintained in this State as part of the workers' compensation benefits afforded an employee under W. Va.Code 23-2-1a (1991).

I.

THE FACTS

The appellant, George Bell, was an ironworker residing in West Virginia and employed by the appellee, Vecellio & Grogan, Inc., a West Virginia corporation. The appellee was a highway construction company and at the time relevant to this injury was engaged in the construction of a series of highway bridges as part of the upgrading of what was to become portions of Maryland's interstate highway system. The appellant, who had worked for the appellee for about six years, was assigned to the bridge construction site in Flintstone, Maryland. 5

The appellant was in the process of assisting in the moving of massive steel bridge beams, when during the maneuvering process, a crane dropped a beam, which caused a chain reaction, crushing Mr. Bell, and resulting in his total paralysis from the chest down.

The appellant filed for benefits under the West Virginia's Workers' Compensation Act. After receiving benefits under West Virginia's workers' compensation laws, the appellant filed this deliberate intention action in the Circuit Court of Raleigh County. The employee's theory of liability against the employer was based upon five specific elements supporting the employer's deliberate intention to injure the employee, pursuant to W. Va.Code 23-4-2(c)(2)(ii) (1991) as follows:

(1) a specific unsafe working condition;

(2) a subjective realization and appreciation on the part of the employer of the specific unsafe working condition;

(3) the specific unsafe working condition was a violation of a state or federal safety standard;

(4) the employee was intentionally exposed to the specific unsafe working condition;

(5) the employee sustained serious injuries resulting from the specific unsafe working condition.

As we noted, this Court previously determined that the appellant submitted sufficient evidence to satisfy all five elements contained within W.Va.Code 23-4-2(c)(2)(ii) to establish the employer's deliberate intention to injure the employee. Bell v. Vecellio & Grogan, 191 W.Va. 577, 447 S.E.2d 269 (1994).

On remand, the appellee raised for the first time the conflicts of law issue which, as contended by the appellee, precludes this deliberate intention claim from proceeding in West Virginia based on the application of the laws of the State of Maryland. The trial court agreed, and we now review the granting of the appellee's motion for summary judgment de novo. Syllabus Point 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W.Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994).

II.

DISCUSSION

The West Virginia Workers' Compensation Act was enacted in 1913 with a design to mutually benefit injured workers, employers, and the public. 6 1913 W. Va. Acts 64. The injured worker benefited by a system of prompt and fair compensation for work-related injuries and diseases unencumbered by notions of fault. The employer who was not derelict in contributing to the workers' compensation fund and did not deliberately injure an employee, benefited by being relieved of responding to damages at common law or by statute. W. Va.Code 23-2-6 (1991). 7 The

Page 141

[197 W.Va. 141] public benefited from the system in that injuries at the hands of labor may be liquidated and balanced by money in the course of the consumption of a product or service by the public. In interpreting the Workers' Compensation Act, the interest of the public, as well as the employee and employer are to be considered. Mains v. J.E. Harris Co., 119 W.Va. 730, 732-33, 197 S.E. 10, 11 (1938).

The provision of the Workers' Compensation Act directly implicated in this case is the deliberate intention exception to an employer's immunity to liability, which has been a part of the Act in differing forms since the statute was enacted in 1913. See W. Va.Code ch. 15P, § 684 (1913). For a period of nearly seventy years, the deliberate intention exception to an employer's immunity was expressed in W. Va.Code 23-4-2 (1969), 8 in pertinent part, as follows:

If injury or death result to any employee from the deliberate intention of his employer to produce such injury or death, the employee, the widow, widower, child or dependent of the employee shall have the privilege to take under this chapter, and shall also have cause of action against the employer, as if this chapter had not been enacted, for any excess of damages over the amount received or receivable under this chapter.

The definition of deliberate intention under this statutory provision was manifold, climaxing with the trilogy of cases sub nom Mandolidis v. Elkins Indus., Inc., 161 W.Va. 695, 246 S.E.2d 907 (1978). 9 In Mandolidis, this Court attempted to put to rest the various definitions of deliberate intention expressed in prior opinions:

Under W. Va.Code § 23-4-2 an employer is subject to a common law tort action for damages or for wrongful death where such employer commits an intentional tort or engages in willful, wanton and reckless misconduct, and to the extent that the syllabus point in Allen v. Raleigh-Wyoming Mining Co., 117 W.Va. 631, 186 S.E. 612 (1936), syllabus point 3 of Brewer v. Appalachian...

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28 practice notes
  • Hammons v. W. Va. Office of the Ins. Comm'r, Nos. 12–1473
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • 20 Mayo 2015
    ...are entitled to all benefits and privileges under the Workers' Compensation Act[.]” Syl. pt. 3, in part, Bell v. Vecellio & Grogan, Inc., 197 W.Va. 138, 475 S.E.2d 138 (1996).Commensurate with an injured employee's right to receive benefits for his/her workplace injuries is the correspondin......
  • Tolliver v. Kroger Co., No. 23940.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • 21 Noviembre 1997
    ...formed intention to produce the specific result of injury[.]" We said in syllabus point 2 of Bell v. Vecellio & Grogan, Inc., 197 W.Va. 138, 475 S.E.2d 138 (1996) W.Va.Code 23-4-2(c) [(1994)] represents the wholesale abandonment of the common law tort concept of a deliberate intention cause......
  • Roberts v. Consolidation Coal Co., No. 26850.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • 19 Julio 2000
    ...action by an employee against an employer expressed within the workers' compensation system. Syl. pt. 2, Bell v. Vecellio & Grogan, Inc., 197 W.Va. 138, 475 S.E.2d 138 (1996). Having ascertained the legislative intent of W. Va. Code § 23-4-2(c), and finding the language of such provision to......
  • Ryan v. Clonch Industries, Inc., No. 33001.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • 27 Octubre 2006
    ...immunity granted under this chapter. W. Va.Code § 23-4-2(c)(1) (emphasis added). See also, Syl. Pt. 2, Bell v. Vecellio & Grogan, Inc., 197 W.Va. 138, 475 S.E.2d 138 (1996) ("W. Va.Code 23-4-2(c) (1991) represents the wholesale abandonment of the common law tort concept of a deliberate inte......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
28 cases
  • Hammons v. W. Va. Office of the Ins. Comm'r, Nos. 12–1473
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • 20 Mayo 2015
    ...are entitled to all benefits and privileges under the Workers' Compensation Act[.]” Syl. pt. 3, in part, Bell v. Vecellio & Grogan, Inc., 197 W.Va. 138, 475 S.E.2d 138 (1996).Commensurate with an injured employee's right to receive benefits for his/her workplace injuries is the correspondin......
  • Tolliver v. Kroger Co., No. 23940.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • 21 Noviembre 1997
    ...formed intention to produce the specific result of injury[.]" We said in syllabus point 2 of Bell v. Vecellio & Grogan, Inc., 197 W.Va. 138, 475 S.E.2d 138 (1996) W.Va.Code 23-4-2(c) [(1994)] represents the wholesale abandonment of the common law tort concept of a deliberate intention cause......
  • Roberts v. Consolidation Coal Co., No. 26850.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • 19 Julio 2000
    ...action by an employee against an employer expressed within the workers' compensation system. Syl. pt. 2, Bell v. Vecellio & Grogan, Inc., 197 W.Va. 138, 475 S.E.2d 138 (1996). Having ascertained the legislative intent of W. Va. Code § 23-4-2(c), and finding the language of such provision to......
  • Ryan v. Clonch Industries, Inc., No. 33001.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • 27 Octubre 2006
    ...immunity granted under this chapter. W. Va.Code § 23-4-2(c)(1) (emphasis added). See also, Syl. Pt. 2, Bell v. Vecellio & Grogan, Inc., 197 W.Va. 138, 475 S.E.2d 138 (1996) ("W. Va.Code 23-4-2(c) (1991) represents the wholesale abandonment of the common law tort concept of a deliberate inte......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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