Enquist v. General Datacom

Decision Date19 March 1991
Docket NumberNo. 13971,13971
Citation587 A.2d 1029,218 Conn. 19
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesGeorge ENQUIST v. GENERAL DATACOM et al.

Jason M. Dodge, Hartford, for appellant (named defendant).

T. Stevens Bliss, Danbury, for appellee (plaintiff).

Robert G. Monstream, Andrew J. Hern, Glastonbury, and William P. Horan, Jr., Legal Intern, filed a brief, for amicus curiae Peerless Ins. Co. et al.

Before PETERS, C.J., and GLASS, COVELLO, HULL and BORDEN, JJ.

COVELLO, Associate Justice.

This is an appeal from a decision of the compensation review division of the workers' compensation commission. The sole issue presented is whether an employer, who has properly intervened in an action by an injured employee against a third party, may set off future compensation claims against the net proceeds that the employee thereafter recovers from the third party tortfeasor. We conclude that such a set off is permitted and therefore reverse the decision of the Appellate Court.

Examination of the record discloses the following: On February 27, 1979, the plaintiff crushed the thumb of his left hand while working on a machine at his place of employment. On June 11, 1980, the plaintiff began a third party action against Burndy Corporation, the manufacturer of the machine. On July 7, 1980, the defendant, General Datacom, the plaintiff's employer, filed an intervening complaint in the third party action. On October 23, 1981, the plaintiff and General Datacom signed a voluntary workers' compensation agreement awarding the plaintiff 20.3 weeks as a specific injury award resulting from a 25 percent loss of use of the non-master thumb. 1 In September, 1984, the plaintiff and Burndy Corporation settled the third party action for $30,000, of which $2500 was paid to satisfy General Datacom's lien. The plaintiff realized $16,556.50 from the settlement after payment of attorney's fees and expenses.

Thereafter, the plaintiff filed for additional compensation from General Datacom based upon a subsequent increase in the percentage of disability to his thumb. The compensation commissioner, with whom the compensation review division thereafter agreed, concluded that General Datacom, as employer, had a continuing, offsetting lien against the $16,250 net proceeds paid to the plaintiff from the settlement of the third party action. The plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Court, which reversed the decision of the compensation review division. Enquist v. General Datacom, 21 Conn.App. 270, 572 A.2d 1048 (1990). We thereafter granted certification limited to the issue of whether an employer is entitled to a credit against future workers' compensation benefits in an amount equal to the employee's net recovery from a personal injury claim made against a third party tortfeasor.

Although the workers' compensation statute does not specifically address reimbursement for as yet unknown future benefits, an employer's future liability to pay compensation benefits following recovery from a third party tortfeasor has historically been linked to General Statutes § 31-293(a) and its predecessors. 2 "[This STATUTE provides, in substance, that an employee who sustains an injury arising out of and in the course of his employment, by reason of the fault and neglect of a third party, may claim compensation under the [Workers' Compensation] Act without prejudice to his common-law right to sue the tort-feasor; that an employer who has paid, or by award become obligated to pay, compensation, may sue the tort-feasor in his own name, with a view to reimbursement; and that, if either sue, the other is entitled to notice and an opportunity to join in the action." Rosenbaum v. Hartford News Co., 92 Conn. 398, 400-401, 103 A. 120 (1918).

Section 31-293(a) further provides for the apportionment between the injured employee and the employer of any recovery from a third party. The "claim of the employer ... [to the net proceeds from the recovery] shall take precedence over that of the injured employee...." The statute further provides: "If the damages ... are more than sufficient to reimburse the employer ... the excess shall be assessed in favor of the injured employee."

In 1951, the General Assembly amended § 31-293(a), then General Statutes (Sup.1951) § 1311b, to add the following language: "The rendition of a judgment in favor of the employee or the employer against such party shall not terminate the employer's obligation to make further compensation, including medical expenses, which the compensation commissioner shall thereafter deem payable to such injured employee." (Emphasis added.) This new provision was a response to our earlier holdings to the effect that a recovery against a third party that exceeded the compensation benefits paid, terminated absolutely an employer's obligation to make further compensation payments. See Stavola v. Palmer, 136 Conn. 670, 73 A.2d 831 (1950); Mickel v. New England Coal & Coke Co., 132 Conn. 671, 47 A.2d 187 (1946); Rosenbaum v. Hartford News Co., supra. As a further addendum, however, the legislature provided that "the employer's claim shall consist of (1) the amount of any compensation which he has paid on account of the injury which is the subject of the suit, and (2) an amount equal to the present worth of any probable future payments which he has by award become obligated to pay on account of such injury." (Emphasis added.) It is noteworthy that under the amended statute, it is the "claim of the employer ... [that] shall take precedence over that of the injured employee in the proceeds of such recovery." (Emphasis added.) Further, the reenactment provided that "[i]f the damages, after deducting the employee's expenses as provided above, shall be more than sufficient to reimburse the employer, damages shall be assessed in his favor in a sum sufficient to reimburse [the employer ] for * * * his claim, and the excess shall be assessed in favor of the injured employee." (Emphasis added.) Thus, the 1951 amendment of § 31-293(a), in an apparent tradeoff, made the employer liable for future compensation benefits, but gave the employer the right to immediate reimbursement for the present worth of future compensation payments to the extent that the future payments were known and formalized by a commissioner's "award" prior to the disposition of the third party action.

What § 31-293(a) does not address is the employer's right to obtain reimbursement for compensation obligations unknown at the disposition of the third party action. While the 1951 amendment of § 31-293(a) establishes that the employer is liable to pay future compensation payments and is entitled to the immediate reimbursement of future payments known at the disposition of the third party action, it is silent as to the employer's right to a credit for unknown future benefits against the net proceeds of the third party action.

Prior to its 1951 amendment, this court held that the predecessor of § 31-293(a) required that "if the employer has become obligated to pay compensation, but has not paid it, and the damages recovered [from a third party action] are greater than the amount of compensation the employer has become obligated to pay ... the entire excess is directed to be assessed in favor of the injured employee, with the consequence of discharging the employer from his ascertained liability under the award.... [Section 31-293] either reimburses or discharges the employer out of the first moneys available for the payment of damages." Rosenbaum v. Hartford News Co., supra, 92 Conn. at 401-402, 103 A. 120.

In its 1951 amendment, the legislature provided that an employer had a continuing obligation to provide compensation. The General Assembly, however, made no attempt to alter our earlier construction of the statute, as set forth in Rosenbaum, that an employer was discharged from his obligations to the extent of the excess moneys available from a third party recovery. In the absence of any express statutory language or legislative history suggesting that our precedent was to be overruled, we decline to read the 1951 amendment of this statute as eliminating an employer's right to a credit to the extent that there are excess proceeds from a third party recovery. 3

We note that other states have enacted workers' compensation statutes establishing precise mechanisms that address an employer's right to reimbursement for unknown future benefits from the proceeds of third party actions. 4 The General Assembly could have adopted one of these statutory mechanisms but elected not to do so despite our existing precedent that implicates a continuing credit against any excess proceeds from the third party action. 5

Finally, our conclusion that an employer is entitled to a credit for unknown future benefits against the net proceeds of a third party recovery comports with other well established principles of workers' compensation law. One of the purposes of the workers' compensation statute is "the avoidance of two independent compensations for the injury." Uva v. Alonzy, 116 Conn. 91, 98, 163 A. 612 (1933), a proposition that we have recently reaffirmed. See Paternostro v. Edward Coon Co., 217 Conn. 42, 47-49, 583 A.2d 1293 (1991). 6 If the plaintiff's argument were to prevail, a claim made subsequent to the disposition of a third party action would result in the employee receiving compensation from both the third party wrongdoer and the employer. In the absence of explicit statutory language mandating such a result, we decline to adopt such a construction. 7 The judgment of the Appellate Court is reversed and the matter is remanded to that court with direction to render judgment affirming the decision of the compensation review division.

In this opinion PETERS, C.J., and BORDEN, J., concurred.

GLASS, Associate Justice, with whom HULL, Associate Justice, joins, dissenting.

The majority holds that the silence of the legislature in...

To continue reading

Request your trial
27 cases
  • Gurliacci v. Mayer
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • May 7, 1991
    ...to our continued adherence to the policy prohibiting double recovery in our Workers' Compensation Act. See Enquist v. General Datacom, 218 Conn. 19, 26, 587 A.2d 1029 (1991) ("[o]ne of the purposes of the workers' compensation statute is 'the avoidance of two independent compensations for t......
  • Pokorny v. Getta's Garage
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • July 9, 1991
    ...Compensation Act prohibits double recovery. See Gurliacci v. Mayer, 218 Conn. 531, 570, 590 A.2d 914 (1991); Enquist v. General Datacom, 218 Conn. 19, 26, 587 A.2d 1029 (1991); Paternostro v. Edward Coon Co., 217 Conn. 42, 49, 583 A.2d 1293 (1991). We conclude that the Appellate Court impro......
  • Weinberg v. ARA Vending Co.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • August 4, 1992
    ...supra, 219 Conn. at 454, 594 A.2d 446; we have recognized that this prohibition is not inviolate. Enquist v. General Datacom, 218 Conn. 19, 37, 587 A.2d 1029 (1991) (Glass, J., dissenting). In McGowan, the Appellate Court construed a specific federal act in accordance with United States Sup......
  • Durniak v. August Winter and Sons, Inc.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • July 14, 1992
    ...claim against the tortfeasor implements the public policy of preventing double recovery by an injured employee. Enquist v. General Datacom, 218 Conn. 19, 26, 587 A.2d 1029 (1991). Fourth, the employer's statutory right to reimbursement reenforces the public policy that, between the employer......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 books & journal articles
  • Criminal Sanctions
    • United States
    • University of Nebraska - Lincoln Nebraska Law Review No. 76, 2021
    • Invalid date
    ...itself. Id. 135. Id. at *6. 136. Id. 137. Id. at *1. 138. Id. at *9 (Moore, J., dissenting). 139. See, e.g., Enquist v. General Datacom, 587 A.2d 1029, 1040 (Conn. 1991)(Peters, C.J., concurring)("[T]he rejection of an amendment indicates that the legislature does not intend the statute to ......
  • Workers' Compensation Developments 2010-2012
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 86, 2012
    • Invalid date
    ...Sections II.D and IV.B supra. 189. 297 Conn. 391, 999 A.2d 682 (2010). 190. Id. at 392-94. 191. Id. at 395-96 n. 4. 192. Id. at 398. 193. 218 Conn. 19, 587 A.2d 1029 (1991). 194. Thomas, 297 Conn. at 405. 195. Id. at 409. 196. Id. at 413. 197. Id. 198. 301 Conn. 405, 21 A.3d 444 (2011). 199......
  • Developments in Tort Law: 1996 Annual Survey
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 71, 1996
    • Invalid date
    ...92 Conn. 398. 103 A. 120 (1918),Skitromo v. Meriden Yellow Cab C66, 204 Conn. 485, 528 A.2d 826 (1987) and Enquist v. General Datacom, 218 Conn. 19, 587 A.2d 1029 (1991). 218 204 Conn. 495, 528 A.2d 826 (1987). 219 Libby v. Goodwin Pontiac -GMC Truck, Inc., 239 Conn. 915, 682 A.2d 1002 (199......
  • Tort Developments in 2010
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 85, 2011
    • Invalid date
    ...notice of the lien to the party prior to such judgment or settlement." 273. Thomas, 297 Conn. at 396. 274. Id. at 395. 275. Id. 276. 218 Conn. 19, 587 A.2d 1029 (1991). Enquist held that an employer's claim under General Statutes § 31-293 (a) includes a credit for unknown, future workers' c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT