Dinino v. Fed. Express Corp.

Decision Date12 September 2017
Docket Number(AC 38798).
Citation169 A.3d 303,176 Conn.App. 248
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
Parties Quintino DININO, Jr. v. FEDERAL EXPRESS CORPORATION, et al.

Dana M. Hrelic, with whom was Kimberly A. Knox, and, on the brief, James J. Walker, for the appellants (named plaintiff).

Brian Tetreault, with whom, on the brief, was Cristin E. Sheehan, for the appellee (named defendant).

Laura Pascale Zaino, with whom, on the brief, were Kevin M. Roche, Rachel J. Fain, and Logan A. Forsey, for the appellee (defendant Ernest Hawkins).

Alvord, Prescott and Pellegrino, Js.

PRESCOTT, J.

It is well established that the Workers' Compensation Act, General Statutes § 31–275 et seq. (act), provides the exclusive remedy for most workers injured in the course of their employment. This appeal arises out of an action by the plaintiff, Quintino DiNino, Jr., in which he alleges that his employer, Federal Express Corporation (FedEx) and his coworker, Ernest Hawkins, are liable for injuries that he suffered in a work related accident. The plaintiff appeals from the trial court's granting of two separate motions for summary judgment in favor of each defendant. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the trial court improperly rendered summary judgment because it erroneously concluded that there were no genuine issues of material fact regarding the applicability of two recognized exceptions to the exclusivity provision of the act. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The record, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff as the nonmoving party, reveals the following facts. At the time of the incident, the plaintiff was employed as a material handler by FedEx. During the course of the plaintiff's employment with FedEx, he was tasked with unloading heavy containers from the back of delivery trucks onto loading docks. The trucks were equipped with airlift roller conveyor systems meant to facilitate the transfer of the containers. The airlift roller conveyor systems made it impossible for the trucks to back up flush to the loading docks, which left a gap between the edge of the loading docks and the rear of the trucks.

On July 18, 2011, the plaintiff was working at FedEx's loading dock in East Granby, when the last delivery truck of the night pulled into the loading dock. Hawkins, the driver of the truck in question, was returning from a trip during which he picked up materials. Hawkins parked the vehicle just short of the loading dock, leaving a larger than normal gap between the dock and the truck. The plaintiff noticed his supervisor spread his hands apart and shake his head upon noticing Hawkins' improper parking of the delivery truck, signaling that the gap was too large. The plaintiff, who was tasked with unloading that particular delivery truck, did not express concern regarding the size of the gap to any of his coworkers, and no steps were taken by the plaintiff's supervisor or Hawkins to reposition the truck.

Shortly thereafter, while moving a container off the truck, the plaintiff fell into the gap between the truck and the loading dock. The container subsequently rolled onto and crushed the plaintiff's right leg, fracturing his tibia and fibula. The plaintiff also suffered an extensive degloving of the soft tissue in his lower right leg, requiring skin flap replacement and skin grafting. The plaintiff subsequently received workers' compensation benefits under the act for his injuries.

The plaintiff commenced the present action on April 8, 2013. The operative complaint contained two counts. In the first count, the plaintiff alleged that FedEx had been "warned of the significant safety hazard presented by the open gaps/spaces by its own agents, servants, and/or employees," but nevertheless "consciously and deliberately chose not to utilize dock boards, dock plates, dock levelers or any other appropriate safety devices to eliminate the significant safety hazard presented by the open gaps/spaces between the truck trailers and the loading dock." The plaintiff also alleged that FedEx's failure to follow proper safety guidelines constituted a violation of the standards of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), 29 CFR 1910.22 (c), and that FedEx's "actions and/or omissions created a substantial certainty that the plaintiff would be injured ...."

In the second count, the plaintiff alleged that Hawkins "failed to properly position his truck in the loading dock by stopping the truck too far away from the edge of the loading dock and thereby leaving an unsafe space or gap between the rear of the truck and the loading dock ...." The plaintiff also alleged that Hawkins "failed to warn the material handlers, including the plaintiff, that he had stopped the truck farther away from the loading dock than was normal" and that the plaintiff's injuries were a direct and proximate result of defendant Hawkins' negligent operation of the delivery truck.

On February 18, 2015, FedEx filed a motion for summary judgment and accompanying memorandum of law, in which it asserted, inter alia, that it is immune from liability pursuant to the exclusivity provision of the act. FedEx also denied that it intentionally had created a dangerous condition that made the plaintiff's injuries substantially certain to occur, which, if established by the plaintiff, would constitute an exception to the exclusivity provision.

On March 2, 2015, Hawkins filed a separate motion for summary judgment. In his accompanying memorandum of law, Hawkins asserted that the plaintiff's claims against him were similarly barred by the exclusivity provision of the act and, further, that the plaintiff's injuries did not arise out of Hawkins' negligent operation of a motor vehicle so as to fall within the recognized motor vehicle exception to the exclusivity provision.

The plaintiff filed an objection and accompanying memorandum of law in response to FedEx's motion for summary judgment, in which he argued that his injuries were a "substantially certain result" of FedEx's various "bad choices" regarding proper safety procedure, and, therefore, fell within a recognized exception to the exclusivity provision. The plaintiff also filed an objection and accompanying memorandum of law in response to Hawkins' motion for summary judgment, arguing that Hawkins had been operating the delivery truck when the plaintiff was injured and, therefore, could be held liable for his negligence.

On August 17, 2015, the court, Hon. Constance L. Epstein , judge trial referee, heard oral argument on Hawkins' motion for summary judgment. The court issued a memorandum of decision on December 18, 2015, granting Hawkins' motion and holding, as a matter of law, that the plaintiff's injuries were not caused by Hawkins' negligent operation of the delivery truck because the truck's ignition had been turned off and the truck remained immobile when the incident occurred. The court, therefore, concluded that the exclusivity provision barred the plaintiff's claim against Hawkins.

FedEx's motion for summary judgment was heard on September 8, 2015. The court, Peck, J. , issued a memorandum of decision on December 30, 2015, granting summary judgment in favor of FedEx. The court concluded that the plaintiff had not raised a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether FedEx had intentionally created unsafe working conditions that made the plaintiff's injuries substantially certain to occur. Specifically, the court concluded that the plaintiff had failed to provide evidence, other than conclusory statements, that he had fallen into the gap previously; witnessed any of his coworkers suffer an injury after falling in the gap; or complained to his supervisor that the width of the gap was unsafe. The court further held that noncompliance with OSHA standards does not give rise to employer liability in Connecticut. Thus, the court held that the exclusivity provision barred the plaintiff's action against FedEx.

The plaintiff filed the present appeal, challenging both trial court judgments. Additional facts and procedural history will be set forth as necessary.

We begin by identifying the applicable standard of review. "The standards governing our review of a trial court's decision to grant a motion for summary judgment are well established. Practice Book [§ 17–49 ] provides that summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, affidavits and any other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.... In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.... The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of showing the absence of any genuine issue [of] material facts which, under applicable principles of substantive law, entitle him to a judgment as a matter of law ... and the party opposing such a motion must provide an evidentiary foundation to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of material fact.... A material fact ... [is] a fact which will make a difference in the result of the case.... Finally, the scope of our review of the trial court's decision to grant the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is plenary." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) DiPietro v. Farmington Sports Arena, LLC , 306 Conn. 107, 115–16, 49 A.3d 951 (2012).

Pursuant to the act, a party injured in the course of his employment is entitled to benefits and compensation regardless of fault, and such compensation shall be the exclusive remedy of the injured employee, with no civil action available against an employer. General Statutes § 31–284. General Statutes § 31–293a further provides that no civil action may be brought against an allegedly negligent coworker, by extension. These are commonly referred to as the exclusivity provisions of the act.

The rationale underlying the exclusivity provision is...

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    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
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  • Binkowski v. Bd. of Educ. of New Haven, AC 39298
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • November 29, 2017
    ...certainty standard)." (Citation omitted; emphasis omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Dinino v. Federal Express Corp. , 176 Conn. App. 248, 255–56, 169 A.3d 303 (2017).On appeal, the plaintiff argues that her complaint states a cause of action under both the actual intent standard a......
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