Bouley v. City of Norwich

Decision Date18 June 1992
Docket NumberNo. 14356,14356
Citation222 Conn. 744,610 A.2d 1245
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesBruce A. BOULEY et al. v. CITY OF NORWICH et al.

Berdon, J., dissented and filed opinion.

Andrew J. O'Keefe, Hartford, with whom were Michael J. Walsh, Bridgeport, and Marc S. Mandell, Norwich, for appellants (defendants).

Donald R. Beebe, with whom was David J. O'Dea, Norwich, for appellees (plaintiffs).

Before PETERS, C.J., and GLASS, BORDEN, BERDON and FRANCIS X. HENNESSY, JJ.

PETERS, Chief Justice.

The principal issue in this appeal is whether an employee who is injured in an automobile accident while operating his employer's vehicle during the course of his employment is precluded by General Statutes § 31-284(a) 1 from collecting uninsured motorist benefits 2 from his self-insured employer. The plaintiff, Bruce A. Bouley, 3 was injured when the police vehicle he was operating collided with another vehicle. After exhausting the third party tortfeasor's automobile liability coverage, the plaintiff, who had also received workers' compensation benefits, brought an action for uninsured motorist benefits against his self-insured employer, the police department of the city of Norwich and the city of Norwich (city). The trial court granted the city's motion for summary judgment. The Appellate Court reversed the trial court's decision. Bouley v. Norwich, 25 Conn.App. 492, 595 A.2d 884 (1991). We granted certification to appeal 4 and now reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The record discloses the following undisputed facts. The plaintiff was a police officer employed by the city of Norwich. On August 31, 1985, while operating a municipal police vehicle during the course of his employment, he sustained injuries in a collision with a third party tortfeasor. The plaintiff received $18,000 in workers' compensation benefits from the city. He also made a claim for damages against the tortfeasor and recovered, by way of settlement, the sum of $20,000, which represented the full amount of the tortfeasor's automobile liability insurance. The city was entitled to reimbursement for the workers' compensation benefits paid to the plaintiff. See General Statutes (Rev. to 1985) § 31-293. 5 Because the plaintiff's economic and medical damages allegedly exceeded $20,000, he sought uninsured motorist benefits under the insurance policy covering the police vehicle the plaintiff had been operating at the time of the accident. 6 The city denied the plaintiff's claim for uninsured motorist benefits. The plaintiff then commenced this action for damages against the city alleging that its failure to provide uninsured motorist benefits violated General Statutes (Rev. to 1985) § 38-175c(a)(2). See footnote 6, supra.

The city moved for summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff had received workers' compensation benefits, and that pursuant to § 31-284(a), those benefits represented the plaintiff's exclusive remedy as to the city. The trial court granted the city's motion for summary judgment in reliance on the Appellate Court's decision in Ross v. New Haven, 19 Conn.App. 169, 561 A.2d 457, cert. granted, 212 Conn. 814, 565 A.2d 536 (1989), 7 which had held that a police officer injured in the course of employment was barred from seeking uninsured motorist benefits from his self-insured employer.

The Appellate Court reversed the decision of the trial court upon concluding that, notwithstanding § 31-284(a) of the Workers' Compensation Act, the city was required to provide uninsured motorist benefits, as well as workers' compensation benefits, to the plaintiff for injuries incurred during the course of the plaintiff's employment. Bouley v. Norwich, supra, 25 Conn.App. at 502, 595 A.2d 884. The court indicated that the purpose of the Workers' Compensation Act, to provide the exclusive tort remedy for an employee against an employer, was not compromised by a claim to pay statutorily mandated uninsured motorist benefits. Id. The court further reasoned that in Wilson v. Security Ins. Co., 213 Conn. 532, 569 A.2d 40, cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 52, 112 L.Ed.2d 28 (1990), a case with almost identical facts, this court had concluded that it was permissible for an employee to receive uninsured motorist benefits in addition to workers' compensation benefits. Although the employer in Wilson was not self-insured, the Appellate Court stated that "an injured employee of a self-insured employer is entitled to receive the same benefits as an employee of an employer that is not self-insured," and reversed the judgment of the trial court granting the city's motion for summary judgment. Bouley v. Norwich, supra, 25 Conn.App. at 502, 595 A.2d 884. In doing so, the Appellate Court stated that its decision in Ross v. New Haven, supra, which was relied upon by the trial court, had been "effectively overruled by Wilson." Bouley v. Norwich, supra, 25 Conn.App. at 495, 595 A.2d 884. This appeal followed.

The city argues that the exclusivity provision of § 31-284(a) was triggered in this case by the undisputed fact that the plaintiff was entitled to and did receive workers' compensation benefits for injuries sustained during the course of his employment. The exclusivity provision, according to the city, bars the plaintiff, in the circumstances of this case, from uninsured motorist coverage even though the city is required by statute to maintain such coverage.

The plaintiff makes a two part argument in support of his contention, to the contrary, that uninsured motorist claims against his self-insured employer do not fall within the prohibition of § 31-284(a). First, the plaintiff claims that § 31-284(a) is inapplicable because he is suing the city, not in negligence, but pursuant to a statutorily created right to recover uninsured motorist benefits and pursuant to the city's contractual obligation to provide uninsured motorist coverage. Second, the plaintiff contends that he is suing the city in its capacity as an insurer, not as an employer, and thus the action is not barred by § 31-284(a).

We agree with the city. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court.

I

The Workers' Compensation Act and the statute mandating uninsured motorist coverage appear in separate chapters of the General Statutes. The first Workers' Compensation Act was enacted in this state in 1913; Public Acts 1913, c. 138, pt. A, § 2; see also Perille v. Raybestos-Manhattan-Europe, Inc., 196 Conn. 529, 539-40, 494 A.2d 555 (1985); A. Grillo, "Fifty Years of Workmen's Compensation--An Historical Review," 38 Conn.B.J. 239, 246 (1964); while § 38-175c requiring uninsured motorist coverage on all automobile liability insurance policies, was enacted fifty-four years later in 1967. Public Acts 1967, c. 510, § 4. Neither statutory scheme expressly refers to the other.

"The purpose of the workmen's compensation statute is to compensate the worker for injuries arising out of and in the course of employment, without regard to fault, by imposing a form of strict liability on the employer." Jett v. Dunlap, 179 Conn. 215, 217, 425 A.2d 1263 (1979); see also Perille v. Raybestos-Manhattan-Europe, Inc., supra, 196 Conn. at 541, 494 A.2d 555; Plainville v. Travelers Indemnity Co., 178 Conn. 664, 669, 425 A.2d 131 (1979). Under the Workers' Compensation Act, both the employer and the employee have relinquished certain rights to obtain other advantages. The employee no longer has to prove negligence on the part of the employer, but, in return, he has to accept a limited, although certain, recovery. See Mingachos v. CBS, Inc., 196 Conn. 91, 97, 491 A.2d 368 (1985). The employer, in turn, guarantees compensation to an injured employee in return for the exclusivity of the workers' compensation liability to its employees. 8 See Pokorny v. Getta's Garage, 219 Conn. 439, 455, 594 A.2d 446 (1991); Jett v. Dunlap, supra; Velardi v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., 178 Conn. 371, 376, 423 A.2d 77 (1979); see generally J. King, "The Exclusiveness of an Employee's Workers' Compensation Remedy Against His Employer," 55 Tenn.L.Rev. 405, 406-408 (1988); A. Larson, "The Nature and Origins of Workmen's Compensation," 37 Cornell L.Q. 206 (1952).

Section 31-284(a), known as the exclusivity provision of the Workers' Compensation Act, provides that "[a]n employer shall not be liable to any action for damages on account of personal injury sustained by an employee arising out of and in the course of his employment.... All rights and claims between employer and employees, or any representatives or dependents of such employees arising out of personal injury or death sustained in the course of employment as aforesaid are abolished other than rights and claims given by this chapter...." This provision does not, however, preclude an injured employee from bringing a claim against a third party tortfeasor responsible for such injury. Rather, the legislature has specifically allowed for such a cause of action. See footnote 5, supra.

The plaintiff does not dispute that he was injured during the course of his employment and that he has received workers' compensation benefits. He claims that he is nonetheless entitled to uninsured motorist benefits from the city because the exclusivity of the Workers' Compensation Act is inapplicable to a claim for uninsured motorist benefits that derives from statutorily mandated uninsured motorist coverage and a contractual obligation to provide such coverage undertaken by the city when it became self-insured.

A

The Appellate Court originally concluded that a claim for uninsured motorist benefits was within the purview of the Workers' Compensation Act in Ross v. New Haven, supra, 19 Conn.App. at 171, 561 A.2d 457. It emphasized that § 31-284(a) "has been repeatedly and uniformly construed by the courts of this state to exclude further recovery from the employer by an employee who has received workers' compensation benefits,"...

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