Worker Injured at Construction Site Can Sue Under Massachusetts’ Statute of Limitations

Worker Injured at Construction Site Can Sue Under Massachusetts’ Statute of Limitations

2020-07-08 14:14:56
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A worker injured at a Massachusetts construction site can sue under the state’s three-year statute of limitations despite being a resident of Connecticut, a Massachusetts Appeals Court has ruled. The decision reverses a lower court’s ruling that Connecticut’s two-year statute of limitations for negligence actions instead applies to the situation.

The case arose after defendant Dimeo Construction Company, a Rhode Island corporation, was contracted to perform construction work at Grafton High School in Grafton, Mass. Dimeo then contracted with defendant Shepard Steel Co. Inc., a Connecticut construction company, to perform decking work on the project.

Shepard contracted with defendant Champion Steel LLC, also a Connecticut company, for steel construction work on the decking, and plaintiff and Connecticut resident Stanford Dulaire, doing business as Connecticut Reliable Welding LLC, entered into a contract with Champion to perform metal work on the project. Dulaire employed Connecticut resident James Doughty to perform decking work at the construction site as well.

On May 17, 2011, Doughty was wearing a retractable life line manufactured by German company IKAR GmbH and marketed by defendant Ultra-Safe Inc., an Arizona corporation, while working on a platform at the construction site. The life line, provided to Doughty by Champion, Shepard and Dimeo, failed and caused Doughty to fall 18 feet to the ground, sustaining serious injuries.

Plaintiff Pacific Insurance Company Ltd., the workers’ compensation insurer for Doughty’s employer Dulaire, had paid out workers’ compensation to Doughty under Connecticut’s workers’ compensation statute pursuant to its policy.

Under Connecticut law, an employee who receives workers’ compensation payments can bring a suit if “any injury for which compensation is payable…has been sustained under circumstances creating in a person other than [the] employer…a legal liability to pay damages for the injury,” according to the Massachusetts Appeals Court opinion document.

Connecticut’s statute also creates a right of action so that employers obligated to pay workers’ compensation, like Dulaire, can sue third parties for recovery of any amounts paid or for which they are obligated to pay, the opinion document added.

In the lawsuit, plaintiffs Pacific and Dulaire contended that Doughty’s injuries were caused by the negligence of defendants Champion, Shepard and Dimeo in supplying, inspecting, maintaining and using the life line. With this in mind, the plaintiffs contended the defendants were liable for all payments Pacific had made and would be obligated to make to Doughty.

The defendants argued, however, that the plaintiffs’ rights were created by Connecticut statute so the Connecticut statute of limitations for negligence should apply. Connecticut’s two-year statute of limitations for negligence actions had expired in 2013 before the plaintiffs filed the claims on May 16, 2014.

The defendants further contended that Massachusetts should have no substantial interest in the suit because “the only connection that Massachusetts has to this case is that the incident happened to occur there,” according to the opinion document.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court disagreed with this argument, however, reasoning that it was enforcing the norms of Massachusetts tort law regarding conduct at a worksite in the state.

“Here, the issue that the plaintiffs seek to litigate in order to hold the defendants liable is precisely the tort liability of the defendants for their alleged negligence in Massachusetts,” Massachusetts Associate Justice Peter J. Rubin wrote in his opinion. “Massachusetts has a substantial interest in seeing this claim litigated for the full period allowed by our statute of limitations.”

The Massachusetts Appeals Court found that because the injury was caused by the alleged negligence of the defendants in performing work and providing equipment and safety planning at the construction site in Massachusetts, the state’s three-year statute of limitations applies despite the Connecticut residency of the injured worker.

“The parties were not visitors passing through our state,” Rubin wrote in his opinion. “Rather, this case involves allegedly tortious conduct doing injury to a worker at a worksite at a Massachusetts high school by defendants contracted to do work there over the course of months. Although the plaintiffs and the injured party reside in Connecticut, and the defendants are out-of-state companies, their contacts with the commonwealth were not transitory.”

The case is Pacific Insurance Company Ltd. & another vs. Champion Steel LLC & others.

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