Simaitis v. Flood

Decision Date05 August 1980
Citation182 Conn. 24,437 A.2d 828
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesCatherine N. SIMAITIS et al. v. Susan FLOOD.

Wesley W. Horton, Hartford, with whom were David L. Fineberg and Charles T. Alfano, Hartford, and, on the brief, Louis W. Flynn, Jr., and Naomi A. Plakins, Hartford, for appellants (plaintiffs).

Neil P. Coughlan, Hartford, for appellee (defendant).

Before BOGDANSKI, SPEZIALE, PETERS, HEALEY and PARSKEY, JJ.

PARSKEY, Associate Justice.

The plaintiff 1 brought this action in negligence for personal injuries sustained in an automobile accident which occurred on January 14, 1974, in Memphis, Tennessee. 2 The plaintiff alleged the following facts: The plaintiff was riding as a passenger in a vehicle leased from Budget Rent A Car of Memphis, Inc., and operated by the defendant. When the defendant proceeded to turn left onto an adjacent street, the vehicle collided with an oncoming vehicle owned and operated by a Tennessee resident.

At the time the accident occurred, both parties were residents and domiciliaries of Connecticut, and were employed by the Aetna Life and Casualty Company in Hartford. Although they worked alternately two weeks in Connecticut and two weeks "on the road," both parties were hired and maintained their principal place of employment in Hartford. The parties were traveling in Tennessee in the course of their employment when the collision occurred and both parties received workers' compensation benefits under General Statutes §§ 31-275 through 31-355 as a result of the accident.

The defendant filed a special defense in which she claimed that the plaintiff's action was barred by Tennessee law which does not permit one employee to sue another in negligence for injuries arising within the scope of their employment. Connecticut law imposes no such barrier. General Statutes §§ 31-293, 31-293a. The defendant argued that Tennessee law applied because the plaintiff's injuries occurred in Tennessee. The trial court denied the plaintiff's motion to strike the special defense and summary judgment was entered in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff appeals from the summary judgment and the court's denial of her motion to strike the special defense.

CONTRACT CHOICE OF LAW

The plaintiff, citing Morin v. Lemieux, 179 Conn. 501, 427 A.2d 397 (1980), contends that this court should apply the law of Connecticut, the place where the employment contract was made, to determine whether the court erred in denying her motion to strike the special defense. Although the contract choice of law rule is a certain one, easily applied, this approach would present several problems in determining whether an employee can properly avail herself of supplemental workers' compensation remedies such as the tort action against a third party provided by General Statutes § 31-293. First, such a rule would serve to preclude the successive incremental awards sanctioned by Thomas v. Washington Gas Light Co., 448 U.S. 261, 100 S.Ct. 2647, 65 L.Ed.2d 757 (1980); Industrial Commission of Wisconsin v. McCartin, 330 U.S. 622, 67 S.Ct. 886, 91 L.Ed. 1140 (1947); Restatement (Second), 1 Conflict of Laws § 182, comment b; 3 Restatement, Conflict of Laws § 403; 4 4 Larson, Workmen's Compensation Law § 85.60, pp. 16-29-16-30; because the employment contract is typically made in only one jurisdiction. Where the contract was not made in Connecticut, remedies provided by the Connecticut Workers' Compensation Act would not apply. Were all or even a substantial number of jurisdictions to adopt this approach, an employee's effort to maximize her compensation benefits and remedies would be frustrated because relief would be limited to that provided by the jurisdiction where the contract was made.

A second problem encountered by this approach is the possibility that an employer can avoid the full extent of potential liability imposed by the Connecticut Workers' Compensation Act simply by making the contract elsewhere, even though all other incidents of employment, such as the place of performance, the employee's residence and the employer's place of business, are in Connecticut. In addition, jurisdictions

which have adhered to the contract[182 Conn. 29] choice of law rule have become immersed in disputes over contract law to determine where the employment contract was made, disputes which bear no relationship to the purpose of the Workers' Compensation Act. As Professor Larson has stated: "Probably the ultimate blame for these rather artificial arguments (to determine where the employment contract was made) and attempted evasions (to avoid the sometimes harsh results of the rule's application to the injured employee) rests on the unrealistic character of the place-of-contract test when construed to depend upon the sheer formality of being physically present in a particular geographical subdivision when a signature is scrawled or a word spoken into a telephone mouthpiece. There is nothing in this technicality of relevance to the choice of an appropriate statute for practical compensation purposes." 4 Larson, supra, § 87.39, pp. 16-83-16-84. The contract choice of law approach is particularly inappropriate in an action such as this where there is no contract between the parties who are fellow employees.

TORT CHOICE OF LAW

The defendant, citing Gibson v. Fullin, 172 Conn. 407, 411, 374 A.2d 1061 (1977), argues that this court should apply the law of Tennessee, the place where the plaintiff's injuries were sustained, because the action brought by the plaintiff is a tort. This choice of law rule is also certain and easy to apply. But like the contract choice of law approach, the place-of-the-injury rule affords only an unsatisfactory resolution to the workers' compensation choice of laws problem.

The application of Connecticut's tort choice of law principles to compensation cases would bestow upon temporary visitors injured in Connecticut all the relief which the Connecticut compensation act affords, but deny that same relief to Connecticut residents injured while on temporary business outside the state, even when all other incidents of employment, such as in this case, are in Connecticut. Moreover, if this court were to adhere to a strict application of the place-of-the-injury rule, a Connecticut resident and employee of a Connecticut employer under a Connecticut contract, who was injured while on temporary business in another jurisdiction might be left with no tort remedy whatsoever if that other jurisdiction applied a different choice of law rule. For example, if the other jurisdiction applied the contract choice of law rule supported by the plaintiff, the lack of symmetry between the jurisdictions would leave the employee unable to satisfy either state's choice of law rules and the compensation commissioners unable to award a remedy. 4 Larson, supra § 84.20, pp. 16-3, 16-7-16-8; see, e.g., House v. State Industrial Accident Commission, 167 Or. 257, 117 P.2d 611 (1941).

The Connecticut Workers' Compensation Act defines "employee" as "any person who has entered into or works under any contract of service or apprenticeship with an employer, whether such contract contemplates the performance of duties within or without the state...." General Statutes § 31-275. Under §§ 31-293 and 31-293a, such employees may be entitled to damages against fellow employees as well as compensation. 5 The act clearly contemplates an award of damages against the defendant for injuries arising out of and in the course of the plaintiff's employment while she temporarily performed duties in Tennessee. This is still another reason for rejecting the place-of-the-injury rule argued by the defendant. Given the inapplicability of tort choice of law rules to conflict of laws problems in the workers' compensation area, there is no reason to discuss the plaintiff's interpretation of Tennessee law or her argument that the rule of lex loci delicti enunciated in Gibson v. Fullin, supra, 411, 374 A.2d 1061, and prior cases should be overruled. 6

WORKERS' COMPENSATION CHOICE OF LAW

The proper choice of law rules to apply in determining whether the trial court erred in denying the plaintiff's motion to strike the special defense are the rules traditionally applied to workers' compensation conflicts cases. Although there are various widely accepted approaches, all of which have been constructed within the workers' compensation framework, each of these approaches compels the conclusion that the trial court erred in denying the plaintiff's motion to strike and in rendering summary judgment.

In Thomas v. Washington Gas Light Co., 448 U.S. 261, 100 S.Ct. 2647, 65 L.Ed.2d 757 (1980), the United States Supreme Court adhered to an interests analysis approach to determine whether the District of Columbia could award supplemental benefits to an employee who had already received compensation in the state of Virginia without violating the full faith and credit clause of the United States constitution. The employee was a resident of the District and was hired by the company in the District. Although he worked primarily in the District of Columbia, he also worked in Virginia where he was injured. Virginia law excluded any other remedy "at common law or otherwise" on account of the injury in Virginia. The court held that "a State has no legitimate interest within the context of our federal system in preventing another State from granting a supplemental compensation award when that second State would have had the power to apply its workmen's compensation law in the first instance. The...

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30 cases
  • Williams v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 14722
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 17 May 1994
    ...the better rule is the analysis contained in the Restatement (Second) of the Conflict of Laws. One such case was Simaitis v. Flood, 182 Conn. 24, 33, 437 A.2d 828 (1980). In Simaitis, a passenger in an automobile brought an action in negligence against the driver of the automobile for injur......
  • Jaiguay v. Vasquez
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 17 June 2008
    ...by an exception to the exclusivity provisions of the applicable workers' compensation scheme. We begin our review with Simaitis v. Flood, 182 Conn. 24, 437 A.2d 828 (1980). In Simaitis , we were required to decide which choice of law rule to apply in a case involving a negligence claim ass......
  • O'Connor v. O'Connor
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 23 December 1986
    ...and undermines an important policy of this state. In such circumstances, we have refused to apply the doctrine. Simaitis v. Flood, 182 Conn. 24, 437 A.2d 828 (1980). Simaitis was a plaintiff's appeal of an adverse summary judgment in a negligence action arising out of an automobile accident......
  • Wessel v. Mapco, Inc.
    • United States
    • Wyoming Supreme Court
    • 30 March 1988
    ...have been entitled to the relief requested under the Wyoming act, if the injury had actually occurred in-state. In Simaitis v. Flood, 182 Conn. 24, 437 A.2d 828 (1980), the Connecticut Supreme Court was faced with a nearly identical situation. A Connecticut employee was injured in Tennessee......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Reassessing Connecticut's Eclectic Choice of Law Methodology: Time for (another) New Direction
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 73, 1998
    • Invalid date
    ...infta § IIIB (discussing eclecticism and internal inconsistency in tort choice of law jurisprudence). 5 See Simaitis v. Flood, 182 Conn. 24, 437 A.2d 828 (1980) (applying an eclectic approach to deciding a choice of law issues in a workers' compensation case); O'Connor v. O'Connor, 201 Conn......

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