Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Lockwood Greene Engineers, Inc.

Decision Date29 March 1962
Docket Number6 Div. 653
Citation273 Ala. 403,140 So.2d 821
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Henry E. Simpson, Wm. L. Clark and Lange, Simpson, Robinson & Somerville, Birmingham, for appellant.

Joe R. Wallace and Davies, Williams & Wallace, Birmingham, for appellee Lockwood Greene Engineers.

Deramus, Fitts & Johnston, Birmingham, for Bagby Elevator & Electric Co.

SIMPSON, Justice.

This case comes before the court on appeal by appellant from a judgment of nonsuit entered on its motion resulting from the lower court sustaining separate demurrers of appellees to the several counts of appellant's complaint.

Appellant as the Workmen's Compensation insurance carrier of Beaunit Mills, Inc. brought the action to recover for the death of J. D. Nicholson, who was electrocuted while performing his duties as an employee of Beaunit Mills in the latter's mill at Coosa Pines, Alabama.

In 1951 appellee, Lockwood Greene, contracted with Beaunit to construct a permanent mill including supervision over installation of electrical systems. Appellee, Bagby, contracted to install the electrical systems under the supervision of Lockwood Greene.

Generally, all counts of the complaint charge that appellees knew that if the electrical systems were not properly installed they would be imminently dangerous to Beaunit's employees. That appellees knew that the outlet in question would be used by employees under circumstances of damp quarters, and that users would be subjected to a lethal electric shock if the outlets were connected to cause neutral wires to be energized with electric current when put into operation. Also, that appellees negligently installed the electric systems in a dangerous and defective condition, in that wires connected to the outlets, not visible without inspection, were so connected as to cause electric current to be upon a wire that should have been neutral, thereby causing the shell of the electric light socket to be energized, that as a proximate consequence the death of decease was caused when he received a shock undertaking to replace a light bulb in the socket of an extension light used by him.

Appellant filed the complaint pursuant to § 312, Title 26, Code 1940. It is advanced by appellees that there is a question whether there had accrued to appellant, at the time of filing the complaint, any cause of action, for it is contended as shown by complaint, that the dependents of the deceased were the sole and exclusive owners of the alleged cause of action, and that such alleged right of action could not be assigned or waived in favor of appellant. The negligent acts are alleged to have occurred in 1952; the injury on 18 February, 1957, and suit brought on 13 August, 1958, five days short of eighteen months after death of deceased. Appellees contend that from § 312, Title 26, and § 123, Title 7, the dependents of deceased could bring the action and it was within their exclusive control within a period of two years following the death of the deceased; that if this right is not exercised by said dependents, the insurance carrier of the employer, or the employer, is vested with a statutory right of subrogation which entitles either to maintain an action only if the dependents do not file an action for wrongful death within two years; that, under these circumstances, the insurance carrier should bring the suit within the six months, i. e., between the 24th and 30th months following death. Therefore, appellees claim appellant's suit is premature, and the purported assignment or waiver by the dependent widow of deceased was ineffectual to confer on appellant any right of action against these appellees.

If this position is well taken by appellees, there was no error in sustaining the demurrers interposed to the complaint, and we are not called upon to go into the merits of the action, viz.: Whether an electrical contractor, or electrical engineer, can be held liable in tort for the death of an employee of the owner of a building where the death is the proximate consequence of negligence of the contractor and engineer, and where death occurs after the completion of the work and after acceptance of the building by the owner, and to whom there was no privity of contract.

Section 312, Title 26, Code of Alabama 1940, provided in pertinent part as follows:

'In the event the injured employee, or in case of his death, his dependents, do not file suit against such other party to recover damages within the time allowed by law, the employer or the insurance carrier for the employer shall be allowed an additional period of six months within which to bring suit against such other party for damages on account of such injury or death.'

The question of what statute of limitation applies to actions by subrogees under the Workmen's Compensation Acts of the various states has frequently arisen in courts throughout the country. The decisions on the question are not uniform, however, as noted at page 1045, § 2, 41 A.L.R.2d: 2d 'The weight of authority favors the rule that the statute of limitations applicable in actions for damages for personal injury, or for death, as the case may be, governs in actions by an employer or insurance carrier subject to payment of workmen's compensation, against a third person for injury to, or death of, an employee, the theory usually accepted being that the employer is subrogated to the right of the employee to recover for the injury, or of the employee's representative to recover for his death.'

This court is committed to the majority rule on this question. In Metropolitan Casualty Ins. Co. of New York v. Sloss-Sheffield Co., 241 Ala. 545, 3 So.2d 306, in speaking of the right of subrogation given by the statute (before its amendment in 1957), this court said:

'It [the insurance carrier] is a statutory subrogee, and the right to which it is subrogated is the right of action arising in favor of the injured workman or his dependents, as a proximate consequence of the negligence or wrongful act of such third person.'

The statute of limitation of one year is applicable to actions for injury to the person. Title 7, § 26, Code of 1940; Williams v. Alabama Great Southern Ry. Co., 158 Ala. 396, 48 So. 485, 17 Ann.Cas. 516; Larue v. C. G. Kershaw Contracting Co., 177 Ala. 441, 59 So. 155; Alabama Great So. Railroad Co. v. Hawk, 75 Ala. 112, 47 Am.Rep. 403.

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20 cases
  • Alabama Power Co. v. White
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • September 28, 1979
    ...Lockwood Greene Engineers, Inc., 278 Ala. 497, 499, 179 So.2d 76, 78 (1965) (emphasis added). In Liberty Mutual Ins. Co. v. Lockwood Greene Engineers, Inc., 273 Ala. 403, 140 So.2d 821 (1962), this court again referred to the predecessor of the statute at issue in the instant case in terms ......
  • Alvarado v. Estate of Kidd
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • January 29, 2016
    ...Corp., 620 So.2d 621, 622 (Ala.1993) ; Dukes v. Jowers, 584 So.2d 524, 526 (Ala.1991) ; Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Lockwood Greene Eng'rs, Inc., 273 Ala. 403, 406, 140 So.2d 821, 823 (1962).Whether considered substantive or remedial, there is less difference in the operative effect of the two......
  • Alvarado v. Estate of Kidd
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • January 29, 2016
    ...Corp., 620 So. 2d 621, 622 (Ala. 1993); Dukes v. Jowers, 584 So. 2d 524, 526 (Ala. 1991); Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Lockwood Greene Eng'rs, Inc., 273 Ala. 403, 406, 140 So. 2d 821, 823 (1962). Whether considered substantive or remedial, there is less difference in the operative effect of the......
  • Cofer v. Ensor
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • April 12, 1985
    ...123, Title 7, Code of Alabama 1940), for there can be only one action for wrongful death. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co. v. Lockwood Greene Engineering Co., Inc., 273 Ala. 403, 140 So.2d 821." 278 Ala. at 499, 179 So.2d at In a later case, Alabama Power Co. v. White, 377 So.2d 930 (Ala.1979), this......
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