Nichols v. Lighthouse Restaurant, Inc., 15799

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation716 A.2d 71,246 Conn. 156
Decision Date04 August 1998
Docket NumberNo. 15799,15799
PartiesCharles NICHOLS v. The LIGHTHOUSE RESTAURANT, INC., et al.

Page 71

716 A.2d 71
246 Conn. 156
Charles NICHOLS
v.
The LIGHTHOUSE RESTAURANT, INC., et al.
No. 15799.
Supreme Court of Connecticut.
Argued March 25, 1998.
Decided Aug. 4, 1998.

Page 72

James D. Moran, Jr., with whom was James L. Sullivan, Fairfield, for appellant (intervening plaintiff).

John B. Farley, with whom, on the brief, was Michael S. Taylor, Hartford, for appellees (defendants).

Before NORCOTT, KATZ, PALMER, McDONALD and PETERS, JJ.

[246 Conn. 158] PALMER, Associate Justice.

Under General Statutes § 31-293(a), 1 an employer who has paid workers' compensation

Page 73

benefits to an employee for injuries sustained by the employee [246 Conn. 159] as a result of the tortious conduct of a third party may seek reimbursement for those payments by intervening in the employee's action against the tortfeasor within thirty days of receipt of formal notice of the employee's action. The sole issue presented by this certified appeal is whether a statute of limitations defense may be raised against an employer who, under § 31-293(a), intervenes in an employee's timely filed action against the tortfeasor within the thirty day period but after the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations. The Appellate Court concluded that an employer's timely intervention under § 31-293(a) does not extend or toll the applicable statute of limitations. Nichols v. Lighthouse Restaurant, Inc., 46 Conn.App. 712, 718, 700 A.2d 114 (1997). We disagree and, consequently, we reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The opinion of the Appellate Court sets forth the relevant undisputed facts and procedural history. "The plaintiff, Charles Nichols, commenced this negligence action on August 4, 1993, after he sustained injuries in a fall on August 20, 1991, while he was at [a] restaurant [operated by the named defendant] The Lighthouse Restaurant, Inc. 2 On September 1, 1993, the plaintiff's employer, Henkels & McCoy [ (Henkels) ], intervened as a plaintiff seeking reimbursement for sums it had paid to the plaintiff under the Workers' Compensation Act, General Statutes § 31-275 et seq. The [named defendant] moved for summary judgment on the intervening complaint, arguing that the two year statute of limitations applicable to negligence causes of action under General Statutes § 52-584 3 barred the intervening complaint. The [246 Conn. 160] trial court granted the motion for summary judgment in favor of the [named defendant] and the intervening plaintiff appealed." Nichols v. Lighthouse Restaurant, Inc., supra, 46 Conn.App. at 713-14, 700 A.2d 114.

In reviewing the applicable statutory scheme, the Appellate Court discerned "nothing in the Workers' Compensation Act that purports to extend or toll the statute of limitations." Id., at 718, 700 A.2d 114. The Appellate Court reasoned that "[a]n employer's rights against a third party tortfeasor are derivative only in the sense that the right

Page 74

of the employer depends upon the employee's right to the extent that [the employer] has no cause of action unless the employee ... has a cause of action...." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., at 717, 700 A.2d 114. Observing that an employer has the right, under § 31-293(a), either to file a lawsuit or to intervene in an employee action, the Appellate Court stated that, "[s]ince the employer has the option to file a lawsuit at any time during the two year statute of limitations period and may do so before the employee takes any legal action, it would be illogical to hold that the employer's rights flow out of, or are contingent on, the time at which the employee commences the litigation." (Emphasis in original.) Id. Quoting from Packtor v. Seppala & Aho Construction Co., 33 Conn.App. 422, 431, 636 A.2d 383, appeal dismissed, 231 Conn. 367, 650 A.2d 534 (1994), the Appellate Court concluded that, "[s]ince an intervening employer's statutory right to reimbursement depends on the liability of the third party to the employee, the statute of limitations applicable to the employer's right of action must be the same as that governing the employee's underlying action against the tortfeasor." 4 (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Nichols v. Lighthouse Restaurant, Inc., supra, 46 Conn.App. at [246 Conn. 161] 717, 700 A.2d 114. On the basis of this reasoning, the Appellate Court, with one judge dissenting, 5 affirmed the judgment of the trial court. Id., at 718, 700 A.2d 114. This certified appeal followed. 6

On appeal, Henkels contends that the Appellate Court improperly concluded that, although Henkels had intervened in compliance with the provisions of § 31-293(a), the tortfeasor nevertheless could raise a statute of limitations defense to bar Henkels' cause of action for reimbursement. In support of its claim, Henkels argues, first, that because § 31-293(a) mandates intervention within thirty days of notice but is silent with respect to compliance with the statute of limitations applicable to the underlying cause of action, the legislature did not intend to require compliance with the statutory time limit. It contends, moreover, that since an intervening employer's right to reimbursement is derivative of the right of its employee to seek damages from a third party, the purposes served by statutes of limitation are fully satisfied by the timely filing of the employee's complaint. Furthermore, Henkels argues that the statutory interpretation that it urges advances the public policy of preventing an injured employee from receiving double compensation for his or her injuries. Finally, Henkels asserts that requiring an employer to file within the limitations period applicable to the underlying cause [246 Conn. 162] of action reasonably could not have been within the contemplation of the legislature because, under certain factual scenarios, it would be impossible for an employer either to file a direct claim or to intervene in a timely manner.

The defendants counter that the thirty day intervention period under § 31-293(a) and the two year statute of limitations for negligence actions under § 52-584 establish two mutually independent requirements, each of which must be satisfied by an intervening employer if that employer is to share in the employee's recovery against a third party tortfeasor. They also argue that, because Henkels received notice of the plaintiff's injuries within one year of their occurrence and, consequently, had the opportunity to file a

Page 75

direct action against the tortfeasor, 7 Henkels cannot object to the assertion of a statute of limitations defense. Finally, the defendants claim that even in those cases in which it may be impossible for an employer to file an action against the tortfeasor within the applicable statute of limitations, notwithstanding compliance with the thirty day requirement of § 31-293(a), a recent amendment to subsection (a) of § 31-293; Public Acts 1993, No. 93-228, § 7 (P.A. 93-228, § 7); 8 which grants to an employer a [246 Conn. 163] lien on the employee's judgment against the tortfeasor, renders Henkels' "impossibility" argument moot. We agree with the arguments espoused by Henkels.

"The standard of review of a trial court's decision to grant a motion for summary judgment is well established. 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. Practice Book § 384 [now Practice Book § 17-49]." Peerless Ins. Co. v. Gonzalez, 241 Conn. 476, 481, 697 A.2d 680 (1997). Because the sole question presented by this case involves the proper application of § 31-293(a) to an undisputed factual scenario, our review is plenary. Charles v. Charles, 243 Conn. 255, 258, 701 A.2d 650 (1997), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 118 S.Ct. 1838, 140 L.Ed.2d 1089 (1998).

We begin with a brief overview of § 31-293(a), which provides that when an employee has become injured and is entitled to seek damages from a third party, an employer who has paid or has become obligated to pay workers' compensation benefits to that employee may seek reimbursement from the third party in one of two ways. First, the employer may bring an action directly against the tortfeasor. Second, it may join an action commenced by the employee. If either an employer or an employee commences an action against the tortfeasor, that party must notify the other that the action has been filed and must provide the other with the name [246 Conn. 164] of the court to which the action is returnable. Upon receipt of proper notice, an employer or employee has thirty days within which to join the action; failure to do so results in the abatement of that party's right of action.

We have previously identified "four overlapping principles that inform the rights established by § 31-293(a). First, the statute protects an injured employee by allowing the employee to sue a third party tortfeasor in a private cause of action for damages, such as pain and suffering, that are uncompensated by a workers' compensation award. Skitromo v. Meriden Yellow Cab Co., 204 Conn. 485, 488, ...

To continue reading

Request your trial
24 cases
  • State v. Wright, 15816
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • August 4, 1998
    ... ... " (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Blakeslee Arpaia Chapman, Inc. v. EI Constructors, Inc., 239 Conn. 708, 756, 687 A.2d 506 (1997). We ... ...
  • R.T. Vanderbilt Co. v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • October 8, 2019
    ...a third-party tortfeasor, in order to recover the benefits paid. See General Statutes § 31-293 (a) ; Nichols v. Lighthouse Restaurant, Inc ., 246 Conn. 156, 164–65, 716 A.2d 71 (1998). Put differently, the exclusivity of the workers' compensation remedy under statutes such as General Statut......
  • Elec. Contractors, Inc. v. Ins. Co. of Pa.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • December 16, 2014
    ...evidence, and witnesses necessary to afford ... a fair defense.” Internal quotation marks omitted.) Nichols v. Lighthouse Restaurant, Inc., 246 Conn. 156, 166, 716 A.2d 71 (1998) ; see also Russell v. Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc., 252 Conn. 596, 616, 748 A.2d 278 (2000) (purpose of notice re......
  • Alvarez v. New Haven Register, Inc.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • July 27, 1999
    ...Ins. Co. v. Gonzalez, 241 Conn. 476, 481, 697 A.2d 680 (1997)." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Nichols v. Lighthouse Restaurant, Inc., 246 Conn. 156, 163, 716 A.2d 71 (1998). Because the sole question presented by this case involves the proper application of § 52-572e to an undisputed ......
  • 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