Berger v. H.P. Hood, Inc.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtBefore LIACOS; ABRAMS
Citation624 N.E.2d 947,416 Mass. 652
Decision Date23 December 1993
PartiesJoanne E. BERGER 1 v. H.P. HOOD, INC., & another 2 (and a consolidated case 3 ).

Page 947

624 N.E.2d 947
416 Mass. 652
Joanne E. BERGER 1
v.
H.P. HOOD, INC., & another 2 (and a
consolidated case 3).
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts,
Middlesex.
Argued Sept. 13, 1993.
Decided Dec. 23, 1993.

[416 Mass. 653] Paul T. Sheils, Boston, Robert E. Jordan, Jr., Everett, with him, for plaintiff.

Page 948

Alice Olsen Mann, Paul S. Grand, Boston, with her, for H.P. Hood, Inc., & another.

Peter J. McCue, Boston, for MA Insurers Insolvency Fund.

Marshall A. Karol, Boston, for First State Ins. Co.

[416 Mass. 652] Before LIACOS, C.J., and WILKINS, ABRAMS, LYNCH and GREANEY, JJ.

[416 Mass. 653] ABRAMS, Justice.

At issue is whether the exclusivity provision of the Workers' Compensation Act, G.L. c. 152, § 23 (1992 ed.), bars an employee's claim against the owner and the insurer of the employer's motor vehicles, for underinsurance benefits (UM). 4 The plaintiff, Joanne E. Berger, asserts that her claim was not precluded by this provision because the claim sounds in contract rather tort. She maintains that G.L. c. 152, § 23, applies only to common law tort claims. In the alternative, the plaintiff argues that only H.P. Hood, Inc. (Hood), the employer, should benefit from the immunity of G.L. c. 152, § 23, and that American Mobile Corporation (American), First State Insurance Company (First), and Massachusetts Insurers Insolvency Fund (Fund) should be treated instead as third parties. 5

Facts. On August 14, 1981, the plaintiff's decedent, Gerard P. Berger, was killed in an automobile accident while in the course of his employment as a truck driver for the defendant Hood. American, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hood, owned the tractor-trailer which Berger was operating at the time of his death. American had leased these vehicles to Hood, which assumed responsibility for their registration and insurance.

[416 Mass. 654] At the time of the accident, Hood self-insured its leased vehicles. To fulfill its financial obligations under the motor vehicle financial responsibility laws (G.L. c. 90, §§ 34A et seq. [1992 ed.] ), Hood had purchased a motor vehicle liability bond from the Aetna Insurance Company. The bond contained no provision for uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage. In addition, Hood had also purchased an excess liability policy from Ideal Mutual Insurance Company, the Fund's predecessor 6 and an umbrella policy from First.

In compensation for her husband's death, the plaintiff received workers' compensation benefits from Hood. In addition, the plaintiff recovered the maximum amount of money available under the insurance policy of the driver of the automobile that collided with the decedent's tractor-trailer. She also recovered underinsurance benefits under her husband's own automobile policy. 7

Page 949

[416 Mass. 655] 1. The plaintiff's claim against Hood. The plaintiff asserts that she has a contractual right to recover UM benefits from Hood which is not precluded by the Workers' Compensation Act. "[T]he key to whether the Work[ers'] Compensation Act precludes a common law right of action lies in the nature of the injury for which plaintiff makes claim." Foley v. Polaroid Corp., 381 Mass. 545, 553, 413 N.E.2d 711 (1980), quoting Gambrell v. Kansas City Chiefs Football Club, Inc., 562 S.W.2d 163, 168 (Mo.App.1978). The Workers' Compensation Act has been interpreted to encompass physical and mental injuries arising out of employment. Id. at 551, 413 N.E.2d 711. The plaintiff's UM claim derives from the same incident, a personal injury sustained in the course of employment, which gave rise to the payment of workers' compensation. See McLaughlin v. Stackpole Fibers Co., 403 Mass. 360, 362, 530 N.E.2d 157 (1988). Merely characterizing the claim as contractual does not alter the essential nature of this common law claim. Hood, if required to pay UM benefits, still would be paying a worker for an injury sustained in the course of employment.

Courts from other jurisdictions have addressed this question. Although there is a split of authority, 8 we are more persuaded by those courts which have determined that the exclusivity provision of a Workers' Compensation Act bars an employee from recovering UM benefits from an employer for an injury in the course of employment. See Bouley v. Norwich, 222 Conn. 744, 610 A.2d 1245 (1992); Gullet v. Brown, 307 Ark. 385, 820 S.W.2d 457 (1991). In Bouley, the Connecticut Supreme Court looked to the purpose behind Connecticut's uninsured motor vehicle statute and determined it was designed to be a "safety net" for motorists who are not otherwise protected. When an employee receives workers' compensation benefits, the Connecticut court concluded that "the policies underlying uninsured motorist coverage are not sufficiently compelling to override [416 Mass. 656] the exclusivity of the Worker's Compensation Act." Bouley v. Norwich, supra at 757, 610 A.2d 1245. We agree.

Like the Connecticut uninsured motorist statute, G.L. c. 175, § 113L (1992 ed.), was enacted with the objective of protecting the "public from injury caused by motorists who could not make the injured party whole." Cardin v. Royal Ins. Co., 394 Mass. 450, 454, 476 N.E.2d 200 (1985). It was intended "to minimize the possibility of ... catastrophic financial loss [to] the victims of an automobile accident." Id., citing 1968 Senate Doc. No. 1030, at 7. In the case of a workplace injury, the employee is protected from the risk of catastrophic financial loss through workers' compensation. An employee who seeks additional coverage may purchase his own underinsurance coverage, as the plaintiff's decedent did in this case.

The exclusivity provision has been the cornerstone of our Workers' Compensation Act. Our exclusivity provision is very broad. The Legislature has had opportunities to narrow its scope, and has not done so. "Any change in compensation law which would permit a covered employee to recover compensation benefits and, in addition,...

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59 practice notes
  • Butler v. Candlewood Rd. Partners, LLC (In re Raymond), Case No. 13–16214–JNF
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. First Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of Massachusetts
    • April 17, 2015
    ...to his own behoof”); 529 B.R. 469Spaneas v. Travelers Indem. Co., 423 Mass. 352, 354, 668 N.E.2d 325 (1996) ; Berger v. H.P. Hood, Inc., 416 Mass. 652, 658, 624 N.E.2d 947 (1993) ; Gurry v. Cumberland Farms, Inc., 406 Mass. 615, 626, 550 N.E.2d 127 (1990) ; McBirney v. Paine Furniture Co., ......
  • In re Industrial Commercial Electrical, Inc., No. 04-40038-WGY.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • January 4, 2005
    ...express outrage when courts of law require them to accept the relevant responsibilities and limitations. See Berger v. H.P. Hood, Inc., 416 Mass. 652, 658, 624 N.E.2d 947 (1993) ("Corporations may not 'assume the benefits of the corporate form and then disavow that form when it is to their ......
  • Norris v. National Union Fire Ins. Co., No. 1-05-3132.
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • October 17, 2006
    ...as the workers' compensation carrier, not in its roles as employer's underinsured motorist carrier). But see Berger v. H.P. Hood, Inc., 416 Mass. 652, 624 N.E.2d 947 (Mass. 1993); National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa. v. Figaratto, 423 Mass. 346, 667 N.E.2d 877 (Mass.1996) ("......
  • Butler v. Candlewood Rd. Partners, LLC (In re Raymond), Case No. 13-16214-JNF.
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. First Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of Massachusetts
    • April 17, 2015
    ...to his own behoof”); [529 B.R. 469]Spaneas v. Travelers Indem. Co., 423 Mass. 352, 354, 668 N.E.2d 325 (1996); Berger v. H.P. Hood, Inc., 416 Mass. 652, 658, 624 N.E.2d 947 (1993); Gurry v. Cumberland Farms, Inc., 406 Mass. 615, 626, 550 N.E.2d 127 (1990); McBirney v. Paine Furniture Co., N......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
59 cases
  • Butler v. Candlewood Rd. Partners, LLC (In re Raymond), Case No. 13–16214–JNF
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. First Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of Massachusetts
    • April 17, 2015
    ...to his own behoof”); 529 B.R. 469Spaneas v. Travelers Indem. Co., 423 Mass. 352, 354, 668 N.E.2d 325 (1996) ; Berger v. H.P. Hood, Inc., 416 Mass. 652, 658, 624 N.E.2d 947 (1993) ; Gurry v. Cumberland Farms, Inc., 406 Mass. 615, 626, 550 N.E.2d 127 (1990) ; McBirney v. Paine Furniture Co., ......
  • In re Industrial Commercial Electrical, Inc., No. 04-40038-WGY.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • January 4, 2005
    ...express outrage when courts of law require them to accept the relevant responsibilities and limitations. See Berger v. H.P. Hood, Inc., 416 Mass. 652, 658, 624 N.E.2d 947 (1993) ("Corporations may not 'assume the benefits of the corporate form and then disavow that form when it is to their ......
  • Norris v. National Union Fire Ins. Co., No. 1-05-3132.
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • October 17, 2006
    ...as the workers' compensation carrier, not in its roles as employer's underinsured motorist carrier). But see Berger v. H.P. Hood, Inc., 416 Mass. 652, 624 N.E.2d 947 (Mass. 1993); National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa. v. Figaratto, 423 Mass. 346, 667 N.E.2d 877 (Mass.1996) ("......
  • Butler v. Candlewood Rd. Partners, LLC (In re Raymond), Case No. 13-16214-JNF.
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. First Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of Massachusetts
    • April 17, 2015
    ...to his own behoof”); [529 B.R. 469]Spaneas v. Travelers Indem. Co., 423 Mass. 352, 354, 668 N.E.2d 325 (1996); Berger v. H.P. Hood, Inc., 416 Mass. 652, 658, 624 N.E.2d 947 (1993); Gurry v. Cumberland Farms, Inc., 406 Mass. 615, 626, 550 N.E.2d 127 (1990); McBirney v. Paine Furniture Co., N......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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