Evans v. Yankeetown Dock Corp.

Decision Date15 April 1986
Docket NumberNo. 87S04-8604-CV-340,87S04-8604-CV-340
Citation491 N.E.2d 969
PartiesMarie EVANS, Personal Representative of the Estate of Oscar Evans, Appellant (Plaintiff below), v. YANKEETOWN DOCK CORPORATION, Appellee (Defendant below).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

DICKSON, Justice.

This case is presented on appellant's Petition to Transfer. The petition is granted. The opinion of the Court of Appeals reported at 481 N.E.2d 121, is vacated.

The parties' briefs accepted the following underlying facts. Oscar Evans and Harlan Miller were both employees of Yankeetown Dock Corporation. On the morning of June 1, 1977, they were both to be at their work stations at 7:15 a.m. Oscar had arrived at Yankeetown that morning at the usual time, and was drinking coffee with fellow employees in an area of the main repair shop of the Yankeetown premises. The area was equipped with picnic tables and provided by Yankeetown for the use of its employees in accordance with the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement of 1974. It was customary for Yankeetown employees to gather in this area a few minutes before they were to report to their work stations, and to change into their work clothes. Both Harlan Miller and Oscar Evans had a distance of several hundred yards to walk to reach their work stations from the employee eating area. Between 6:50 and 7:00 a.m., before Oscar Evans had changed into his work clothes, Harlan Miller, apparently due to an alcoholic paranoid delusional state wholly unrelated to his employment, fatally shot Oscar Evans. No claim for workmen's compensation benefits was filed.

Plaintiff-appellant Marie Evans (Evans), personal representative of the Estate of Oscar Evans, deceased, brought a wrongful death action against Yankeetown Dock Corporation (Yankeetown) alleging in substance that Yankeetown, as employer of Harlan Miller, negligently permitted Miller to come upon the Yankeetown premises and "discharge a firearm at the Plaintiff's decedent as he sat on the employer's premises awaiting to begin his work." The trial court subsequently granted summary judgment for Yankeetown based solely upon the exclusivity of remedy provision. Ind.Code Sec. 22-3-2-6, of the Indiana Workmen's Compensation Act.

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth District issued a thoughtful opinion seeking to address, resolve, and simplify the persistent difficulties plagueing the courts in their attempts to interpret and apply certain provisions of the workmen's compensation statutes. In substance, the Court of Appeals reinterpreted the applicable statutes as granting to the Industrial Board exclusive jurisdiction of all claims by an employee against his employer for injury or death by chance, regardless whether arising out of or in the course of employment, whereupon it would then be the function of the Industrial Board to determine whether to grant or deny workmen's compensation benefits, depending on whether or not the injury or death arose out of and in the course of employment. Applying this construction, the Court of Appeals found that the Industrial Board would have exclusive jurisdiction over claims by Evans against Yankeetown, and affirmed the trial court.

The twenty-eight issues claimed by Evans's petition to transfer may be regrouped as follows:

1. Does the exclusive Industrial Board jurisdiction require that the death or injury occur not only "by accident" but also "arising out of and in the course of employment?"

2. Does the term "by accident" as used in the Indiana Workmen's Compensation Act, require an unexpected event?

3. Was summary judgment proper under the facts?

Before addressing these specific issues, we observe that the present system of workmen's compensation in Indiana was essentially established with the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1929. Retention of this basic system by our General Assembly reflects that broad public policies continue to be served thereby. As recognized in 2A Larson, The Law of Workmen's Compensation, sec. 65.11, pp. 12-1--12-6 (1983):

Once a workmen's compensation act has become applicable ... it affords the exclusive remedy for the injury by the employee or his dependents against the employer and insurance carrier. This is part of the quid pro quo in which the sacrifices and gains of employees and employers are to some extent put in balance, for, while the employer assumes a new liability without fault, he is relieved of the prospect of large damage verdicts.

A similar view is also expressed in Prosser, Handbook of the Law of Torts, sec. 80, pp. 531-532 (4th ed., 1971):

When an injury to a servant is found to be covered by a workmen's compensation act, it is uniformly held that the statutory compensation is the sole remedy, and that any recovery at common law is barred. It is recognized that this remedy is in the nature of a compromise, by which the workman is to accept a limited compensation, usually less than the estimate which a jury might place upon his damages, in return for an extended liability of the employer, and an assurance that he will be paid. Accordingly, even though his damages are partly of a nature not compensated under the act, he has no cause of action based on the negligence of his employer.

The continuing vitality of a workmen's compensation system not only serves the interests of the injured worker, it also benefits the business community in providing protection from large verdicts and by permitting the business community to more easily predict, quantify and plan for anticipated costs from employee injuries.

The right and responsibility to determine these public policies, and to adopt, improve, refine, and perfect legislation directed thereto, falls not to us but to the legislature. Our role is to construe and apply these enactments so as to carry out legislative intent. Public policy purposes benefiting both business and labor have thus been served by the long-standing approach of Indiana courts to liberally construe workmen's compensation laws. See, Marshall v. Tribune-Star Publishing Co. (1968), 142 Ind.App. 556, 236 N.E.2d 508, affirmed (1969), 251 Ind. 557, 243 N.E.2d 761; Pollock v. Studebaker Corp. (1952), 230 Ind. 622, 105 N.E.2d 513; Blue Ribbon Pie Kitchens Inc. v. Long (1952), 230 Ind. 257, 103 N.E.2d 205; Guevara v. Inland Steel Co. (1949), 120 Ind.App. 47, 88 N.E.2d 398, trans. denied (1950), 228 Ind. 135, 90 N.E.2d 347 (Emmert, J., dissenting); Goldstone v. Kozma (1971), 149 Ind.App. 626, 274 N.E.2d 304; Prater v. Indiana Briquetting Corp. (1969), 253 Ind. 83, 251 N.E.2d 810; Talas v. Correct Piping Co., Inc. (1982), Ind., 435 N.E.2d 22; Sam Winer & Co. v. Spelts (1976), 169 Ind.App. 392, 348 N.E.2d 670.

However, we are not free to construe a statute which is unambiguous, as noted in Spelts, supra, quoting from J.W Jackson Realty Co. v. Hertzberger (1942), 111 Ind.App. 432, 40 N.E.2d 379:

The rule concerning liberal construction, in favor of the appellee, of the compensation law has no application in a case where there is no room for construction. Under the rule of liberal construction in favor of the employee to carry out the humane purposes of the Act, the Industrial Board and this court are not entitled to distort the law so that compensation will be granted in violation of specific statutory provisions.

169 Ind.App. at 395, 348 N.E.2d at 673. Our ability to effect legislative purpose is necessarily limited to the language of the statutes. We recognize the wisdom declared in Kunkalman v. Gibson (1908), 171 Ind. 503, 509-10, 84 N.E. 985, 987, reh. denied (1909), 171 Ind. 511, 86 N.E. 850, as follows:

Perhaps no better statement can be found of the doctrine that exceptions should not ordinarily be declared by the courts where the legislature speaks broadly than is contained in City of Pittsburgh v. Kalchthaler (1886), 114 Pa.St. 547, 552, 7 Atl. 921, wherein the supreme court of Pennsylvania said: "We think it is always unsafe to depart from the plain and literal meaning of the words contained in legislative enactments out of deference to some supposed intent, or absence of intent, which would prevent the application of the words actually used to a given subject. Such a practice is really substituting the theories of a court, which may, and often do, vary with the personality of the individuals who compose it, in place of the express words of the law as enacted by the lawmaking power. It is a practice to be avoided. It has been condemned by many test-writers and by many courts. Occasionally it has been departed from, but the path is a devious and dangerous one, which ought never to be trodden, except upon considerations of the most convincing and the gravest moment."


The principal statute relied upon by both the trial court and the Court of Appeals is Ind. Code 22-3-2-6, which we find to be clear and unambiguous:

The rights and remedies herein granted to an employee subject to this act on account of personal injury or death by accident shall exclude all other rights and remedies of such employee, his personal representatives, dependents or next of kin, at common law or otherwise, on account of such injury or death. (Emphasis supplied.)

Thus, this statute operates to exclude common law rights and remedies of such employees who are "subject to this act on account of personal injury or death by accident." The exclusion applies to all of those rights and remedies on account of "such injury or death" which expressly refers to the prior term "personal injury or death by accident."

The terms "injury" and "personal injury" are expressly defined in IC 22-3-6-1(e):

"injury" and "personal injury" mean only injury by accident arising out of and in the course of the employment and do not include a disease in any form except as it results from the injury.

Thus, if the injury does not occur by accident or...

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