Workers’ Compensation Exclusivity – Bars to Liability

Authored by: Justin R. Bengtson

Gutierrez v. Hutchinson, Jr., et al., Superior Court, judicial district of Bridgeport at Bridgeport, 2024 WL 340712 (January 26, 2024).  The plaintiff worked for a tree service company when he sustained serious injuries to his hand while on the job when coming into contact with the chains of a log hauling truck.  The plaintiff brought claims against his employer and the employee operating the truck at the time of the injury, claiming that his coworker’s negligence caused the injury.  The coworker moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiff was injured in an incident arising out of his employment, therefore plaintiff’s exclusive remedy was to file a claim under the Workers’ Compensation Act.  While there is an exception to the exclusivity provision of the Worker’s Compensation Act to permit an injured worker to recover against a fellow employee if the cause of action is based on the fellow employee’s negligent operation of a motor vehicle, the court found that the plaintiff’s coworker’s operation of the log hauling truck’s tree removal function did not qualify as operation of a motor vehicle for purposes of the exception. Connecticut decisional law has defined “operation” for purpose of the motor vehicle exception to the exclusivity provision as “driving or movement of the vehicle itself or a circumstance resulting from the movement of the vehicle.”  The plaintiff’s coworker’s utilization of the log hauling truck’s tree removal functions did not qualify as “operation” for purposes of excepting the plaintiff’s injury from the exclusivity provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act.


Employment Discrimination – Reasonable Accommodations

Authored by: Catherine V. Ingersoll

Devito v. Griffin Hospital, Superior Court, judicial district of New Haven at New Haven, 2024 WL 243396 (January 19, 2024).  The plaintiff was the former Director of Laboratory Services at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Connecticut.  As a result of the plaintiff’s Type 1 diabetes, he prepared a request for a reasonable accommodation of a reduced work schedule. Three days before the plaintiff submitted the request, the plaintiff was terminated by Griffin Hospital.  The plaintiff submitted a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (“CHRO”) alleging violations of Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act and Connecticut General Statutes §46a-60 for disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, and retaliation.  After the CHRO released his complaint, the plaintiff filed suit in Superior Court.  In turn, Griffin Hospital moved for summary judgment arguing that the plaintiff failed to set forth a prima facie case for disability discrimination and retaliation, and that under Connecticut statute the claim against an employer for failure to reasonably accommodate is unavailable.  As to the allegations of physical disability discrimination and retaliation, the court in its application of the burden shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas granted summary judgment.  Regarding the claim of physical disability discrimination, the Court found that there was no genuine issue of material fact that the plaintiff’s termination was not motivated by unlawful discriminatory intent by Griffin Hospital.  The retaliation claim failed after the Court found that there was insufficient evidence presented by the plaintiff to prove that Griffin Hospital’s non-retaliatory reason for termination was merely pretextual. This meant that the plaintiff failed to show that Griffin Hospital had a hidden discriminatory reason for terminating the plaintiff.  Most notably, the allegation that Griffin Hospital failed to accommodate the plaintiff’s physical disability of diabetes survived summary judgment. The court acknowledged that C.G.S § 46a–60(b)(1) is not “coextensive” with the federal requirement of reasonable accommodations as set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act.  However, the Connecticut Supreme Court’s prior decision in Curry v. Allan S. Goodman, Inc. interprets the statute to require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. Therefore, the Court, due to binding precedent, was unable to consider whether Curry was wrongfully decided.  Instead, the Court reasoned that the plaintiff’s requested accommodation for his diabetes would not have imposed an undue hardship on Griffin Hospital and that there remained a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Griffin Hospital was required to engage in the informal interactive process of discussions of the reasonable accommodation before terminating the plaintiff.


CUPTA and CUIPA – Third Party Standing

Authored by: Megan A. Kittler LLC v. Jermaine Foskey and Farmers Group Property & Casualty Insurance Co., Superior Court, judicial district of Waterbury at Waterbury, 2024 WL 1068926 (March 7, 2024).  The individual defendant rented a vehicle from the plaintiff and when the vehicle was returned, the plaintiff noticed it had substantial damage.  The plaintiff then made a claim with the individual defendant’s insurance company, Farmers, which refused to provide coverage to the plaintiff.  The plaintiff commenced the subject lawsuit and Farmers moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims for lack of standing on the ground that the plaintiff is not a party to, intended beneficiary of, or an assignee of the subject insurance contract. The plaintiff objected to the motion to dismiss as it related to its claims under the Connecticut Unfair Insurance Practices Act (“CUIPA”) and the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (“CUTPA”) asserting that it suffered an ascertainable loss because Farmers did not provide it coverage, and therefore, it was not compensated for the loss related to the rental. The Court found that the plaintiff lacked standing because a plaintiff cannot assert a claim for CUIPA violations through CUTPA, either on behalf of an individual defendant or its own behalf, unless it suffered an ascertainable loss as a result of the use or employment of such a method, act or practice prohibited by CUTPA. Here, the plaintiff had no direct transactional dealings with Farmers’s actions or inactions as the only “ascertainable loss” to the plaintiff was attributable to the individual defendant’s actions in damaging the vehicle.  Moreover, the Court distinguished these facts from the Connecticut Supreme Court’s prior decision in Soto v. Bushmaster Firearms Int’l LLC, which the plaintiff argued did away with the privity requirement under CUTPA, because in Soto the Court narrowly extended standing under CUTPA to third parties that have no business relationship to a defendant for injuries resulting from advertising, and here, Farmers was not an advertiser but rather an insurer providing coverage.  Regarding to the plaintiff’s CUIPA claims, the Court recognized that the plaintiff also lacked standing as the Connecticut Appellate Court has explicitly stated that a CUIPA violation asserted through CUTPA alleging unfair settlement practices only extends to insureds or third parties after a judicial determination and here no such determination had been made.


Property Insurance – Waiver of Subrogation

Authored by: Emiko W. Schaeffer

American Commerce Ins. Co. v. Eastern Fuel Corporation, Superior Court, judicial district of New Haven at New Haven, 2024 WL 937143 (February 26, 2024).  This case involved an insurance company exercising its subrogation rights on behalf of its insured homeowners against a fuel corporation.  The insureds engaged Eastern Fuel to service their residential property, including delivering fuel, performing inspections, and replacing oil filters and fuel lines.  Despite Eastern Fuel’s frequent deliveries and inspections, oil leaks occurred on the property causing significant damage that required remediation. American Commerce brought suit sounding in negligence due to Eastern Fuel’s breach of an implied warranty to perform services in a workmanlike manner. By way of special defenses, Eastern Fuel pointed to insurance policy provisions in their delivery contract regarding limitations on damages and a waiver of subrogation clause.  Eastern Fuel’s sole summary judgment argument was predicated upon the latter, specifically that the waiver of subrogation clause precluded any right of recovery. American Commerce countered by alleging that a waiver of subrogation in a consumer fuel service contract violated public policy as a matter of law.  As an issue of first impression, the Court looked to the enforceability of subrogation waivers in construction contracts and found the comparison inapposite because construction contracts require mutual acceptance of risk allocation and equal bargaining power. In holding that the waiver of subrogation in Eastern Fuel’s contract was void as against public policy, the Court reasoned that it was unfair to the average homeowner who was not well-versed in the boilerplate subrogation provision to be in a position where the heating oil industry could rely on a subrogation clause to insulate itself from liability by transferring its liability to the subrogee’s insurance company.