Madison v. Pierce

Decision Date17 December 1970
Docket NumberNo. 11834,11834
Citation478 P.2d 860,156 Mont. 209
PartiesBernice K. MADISON, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Clark P. PLERCE et al., Defendants and Respondents.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

Keefer & Roybal, Neil S. Keefer argued, Charles A. Bradley, Billings, for plaintiff-appellant.

Crowley, Kilbourne, Haughey, Hanson & Gallagher, Bruce R. Toole argued, Robert P. Ryan argued, Billings, for defendants-respondents.

HASWELL, Justice.

An injured employee receiving workmen's compensation benefits brought a negligence action for the same injuries against three officers and a foreman of her corporace employer. Plaintiff sought to impose a personal liability on each defendant based upon his individual negligence. From orders granting summary judgments to all defendants by the district court of Yellowstone county, plaintiff appeals.

The single issue upon appeal: Does the Montana Workmen's Compensation Act bar a negligence action by a covered workman seeking damages for the same injuries against a coemployee? We hold the Act bars such suits, granting protection and immunity therefrom to fellow employees.

Plaintiff's complaint together with an agreed statement of fact furnish the background of this appeal. On June 14, 1967, plaintiff Bernice K. Madison was employed by Pierce Packing Co., a Montana corporation, at its packing plant in Billings, Montana. At that time she suffered an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of her employment. Her employer, Pierce Packing Co., was enrolled under Plan II of the Workmen's Compensation Act. Phoenix of Hartford Insurance Company was the insurer. Claimant was being paid compensation under the Act at the rate of $37 per week.

While being paid compensation under the Act, plaintiff filed a negligence action against four defendants in the district court of Yellowstone county. This personal injury suit sought $150,000 damages for the same injury for which plaintiff was receiving benefits under the Workmen's Compensation Act. Defendants in this negligence action are: Clark P. Pierce, president of plaintiff's corporate employe; D. C. Stone, Jr., vice-president thereof; Paul R. Florey, secretary-treasurer thereof; and Eddie Ritz, a foreman thereof in charge of the work plaintiff was doing at the time of her injury.

In her negligence action plaintiff sought to establish a joint and several personal liability against defendants, bottomed on alleged negligence by each resulting in her injury. Plaintiff contends her accidental injury occurred while she was working on a machine or device called a wiener peeler, which she alleges was defective in its electrical operation. She alleges she was injured by an electrical shock when she came into contact with the wiener peeler with a metal rod holding wieners.

Plaintiff charges negligence on the part of each defendant in three counts which can be summarized in this manner: (1) Defendants' actual or implied knowledge of the defective machine and its danger to plaintiff, and thereafter allowing or compelling plaintiff to work upon it to her injury. (2) Defendants' authority and duty to maintain such machine in good working order; defendants' actual or implied knowledge that the machine was defective; defendants' failure to remedy the defect; and the resulting foreseeable injury to plaintiff whom they required to use the machine. (3) Maintenance of nuisance consisting of the defective machine resulting in injury to plaintiff.

The district court granted summary judgment to each of the four defendants based on the foregoing facts. Plaintiff appeals from the orders granting the summary judgments to all defendants.

The single underlying issue upon appeal heretofore stated is purely a question of law involving statutory construction of the Montana Workmen's Compensation Act, specifically section 92-204, R.C.M.1947, dealing with actions against third parties causing injuries. This section, as it existed on the date of plaintiff's injury, contained the title: 'Election of employer and employee to come under act-action against third party causing injury.' It provided that when both the employer and employee elect to come under the Workmen's Compensation Act, the provisions of the Act provide the exclusive remedy as between employer and employee and their respective successors in interest. Both employer and employee by their election to come under the Act surrender their respective rights to any other kind of determination concerning personal injury to the employee except 'as such rights may be hereinafter specifically granted'. Then follows the exception that is the focus of the present dispute:

'Provided, that whenever such employee shall receive an injury while performing the duties of his employment and such injury * * * (is) caused by the the act or omission of some persons or corporations other than his employer, then such employee * * * shall in addition to the right to receive compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act, have a right to prosecute any cause of action he may have for damages against such persons or corporations, causing such injury.'

Completing section 92-204 are provisions relating to employer subrogation and lien rights; rights of the employer and his insurer to bring the action against a negligent third party in default of the employee's exercise of such right; and division of the proceeds collected in the third party action between the employer and the injured employee.

The specific question before us is whether section 92-204 granting immunity from common law or statutory negligence actions by the injured employee to 'persons or corporations other than his employer' grants such immunity to coemployess of the injured workman.

At the outset it is clear that coemployees include executive and management personnel of corporate employers, as well as its workmen and laborers. Larson Workmen's Comp. v. 2, § 72.10P. 179 and cases cited therein. This is true because they are hired or employed by the corporate employer as well as laborers and workmen's compensations acts generally cover them without distinction. It is equally true in Montana under the statutory definition of 'employee' and 'workman' contained in section 92-411 of our Workmen's Compensation Act. The Montana Act does not classify management or supervisory employess differently from workmen or laborers, but includes all without distincition within the terms 'employee' or 'workman'.

The language of the Montana Act does not expressly specify whether coemployees are included or excluded from immunity from negligence actions by the injured employee. To determine the intent of the legislature in this regard, we must look to the purposes of the Act and its provisions for the accomplishment of such purposes.

The broad purpose of the Montana Workmen's Compensation Act is to substitute a system for the payment of medical costs and wage losses to injured employees without regard to fault, for the common law system of legal action by the injured employee against the one whose negligence proximately caused his injury. The principle behind this legislation was that the business enterprise or industry should directly bear the costs of injury to its employess in the same manner as the enterprise has always borne the costs of maintaining and repairing its plant, machinery and equipment. The business enterprise should pass along the costs of maintenance and repair of its human resources, its employees, in the same manner as is done in the case of other production costs, namely in the price at which its product is sold to the public. This underlying purpose finds summary expression in the familiar phrase 'the cost of the product should bear the blood of the workman'.

The foregoing purposes of the Montana Workmen's Compensation Act have been expressed and reiterated by this Court ad infinitum for over 50 years. Shea v. North-Butte Min. Co., 55 Mont. 522, 179 P. 499; Bruce v. McAdoo, 65 Mont. 275, 211 P. 772; Kerns v. Ansconda Copper Min. Co., 87 .mont. 546, 289 P. 563; Moffett v. Bozeman Canning Co., 96 Mont. 347, 26 P.2d 973; Clark v. Olson, 96 Mont. 417, 31 P.2d 283; State ex rel. Morgan v. Indus. Accident Bd., 130 Mont. 272, 300 P.2d 954; Mahlum v. Broeder, 147 Mont. 386, 412 P. 2d 572.

To accomplish these purposes, the Act makes the employer liable for payment of compensation to his injured employee. Section 92-614, R.C.M.1947. This obligation may be discharged in three ways: (1) as a self-insurer (Plan I); (2) by insuring with a private insurance company (Plan II); or (3) by insurance with the State fund (Plan III). Under and of the three alternatives the employer pays the entire cost; no part of this cost is paid by any employee. The Act is exclusive; the employer and employee covered by it surrender as between themselves the right to adjudication of liability for injury to the employee by common law or statutory negligence action for damages. But the employee retains his right to such action against any 'persons or corporations other than his employer' whose act or omission has caused his injury in addition ot his right to compensation; if the employee brings such action, the employer is subrogated to the employee's rights to the extent of either (a) one-half of the amount paid to the employee at time suit is brought and on final award, or (b) one-half of employee's recovery in the negligence action, by settlement or judgment, whichever is lesser; if the employee fails to bring such suit within six months of the time of injury, the employer may do so and from the settlement or judgment therein, retain the total compensation paid remitting any balance to the employee. Section 92-201, R. C.M.1947.

The foregoing purposes and structure of the Montana Workmen's Compensation Act demonstrate its foundation of enterprise...

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23 cases
  • Athas v. Hill
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • September 1, 1983
    ...256, 261 (Miss.1978) (statute includes bar to negligence cause of action by injured employee against coemployee); Madison v. Pierce, 156 Mont. 209, 215, 478 P.2d 860 (1970) (to allow employee to bring cause of action for negligence against coemployee in addition to receiving compensation aw......
  • Md. Cas. Co. v. Asbestos Claims Court
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • March 25, 2020
    ...employers from the broad scope of damages to which that they would otherwise be exposed at common law. See Madison v. Pierce , 156 Mont. 209, 213-14, 478 P.2d 860, 863 (1970) ; State ex rel. Morgan v. Indus. Accident Bd. of Mont. , 130 Mont. 272, 278-79, 300 P.2d 954, 958 (1956) ; Lewis & C......
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    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • December 16, 2020
    ...126, ¶ 12, 294 Mont. 449, 982 P.2d 456 ; Sitzman v. Shumaker , 221 Mont. 304, 307, 718 P.2d 657, 659 (1986) ; Madison v. Pierce , 156 Mont. 209, 213-14, 478 P.2d 860, 863 (1970) ; Mahlum v. Broeder , 147 Mont. 386, 392-95, 412 P.2d 572, 575-77 (1966) ; State ex rel. Morgan v. Indus. Acciden......
  • Athas v. Hill, 893
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • April 12, 1983
    ... ... See Witherspoon v. Salm, 251 Ind. 575, 243 N.E.2d 876 (1969); Brown v. Estess, 374 So.2d 241 (Miss.1979); Madison v. Pierce, 156 Mont. 209, 478 P.2d 860 (1970); Warner v. Leder, 234 N.C. 727, 69 S.E.2d 6 (1952). 8 This approach is not applicable because it ... ...
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