A worker for a tire recycling company was working under a canopy that was supported by a wooden beam. A co-worker was driving a yard truck that was towing a trailer during the loading process. A door to the trailer was open to allow tires to be loaded. The door struck the beam. The beam was dislodged and struck the worker, causing serious injuries. The worker and co-worker were both acting within the scope of their employment when the accident occurred.
The trailer was designed for highway use. It had a license plate, vehicle registration, tail and brake lights, mud flaps, rubber tires for highway use, a protective mechanism to prevent following vehicles from riding under the rear, and suspension and braking systems. The chassis portion of the trailer was inspected annually to ensure its continued safety for operation on public highways. It had previously been used numerous times on the highway to transport property.
The worker sued the co-worker. In Connecticut, workers' compensation holds the exclusive remedy for injuries sustained by a worker arising out of and in the course of his employment. An exception to the exclusivity provision exists. If a worker suffers injuries otherwise compensable under workers' compensation due to the negligence of a co-worker, the injured worker is barred from recovery against his co-worker unless the injuries were caused by the co-worker's negligent operation of a motor vehicle.
A motor vehicle is: 1) suitable for transportation; 2) propelled by no muscular power; and 3) suitable for operation on a highway. Special mobile equipment, defined as vehicles not designed for highway use, is not considered a motor vehicle.
The parties agreed that the co-worker was negligent. The co-worker argued that the worker's suit was barred.
The trial court concluded that the worker's injuries were caused by the negligent operation of a motor vehicle and awarded the worker $1.2 million. The co-worker appealed.
Was the trial court correct in finding the worker's suit was not barred?
A. No. The trailer was not a motor vehicle because it had no motor or ability to self-propel.
B. Yes. The trailer consisted of a motor vehicle, and the co-worker negligently operated it.
C. No. The trailer was special mobile equipment.
How the court ruled: B.
The Connecticut Appellate Court held that the worker's suit against his co-worker was not barred because the injuries were caused by the co-worker's negligent operation of a motor vehicle. Arias v. Geisinger, No. AC 31565 (Conn. App. Ct. 03/01/11).
The court concluded that the co-worker, by driving the yard truck that towed the trailer, operated a motor vehicle--the trailer. The trailer had the required equipment for highway use. The c-oworker operated the trailer because he controlled and directed the movement of the trailer by the manner in which he drove the truck.
A is incorrect. The court noted that according to the statutory definition of motor vehicle, it was only required to not be propelled by muscular power.
C is incorrect. Contrary to the co-worker's argument, the court said that the trailer was not special mobile equipment because it was a vehicle designed for the transportation of property on a highway.
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April 14, 2011
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