Exception to workers’ compensation exclusivity for intentional injuries

Statutory and case law

The one aspect of the Connecticut Workers' Compensation Act that is probably most well known is its exclusivity. If you are an employee and are injured while at work, your exclusive remedy is a claim for workers' compensation benefits. In other words, you cannot sue an employer for civil damages. Or can you?

Not as well known as the exclusivity of workers' compensation is the exception which applies when an employee proves that the employer committed an intentional tort by:

  • Actually intending to injure the employee ("actual intent" standard); or
  • Intentionally creating a dangerous condition which the employer knew would make injuries by the employee substantially certain ("substantial certainty" standard).

This exception was first announced in 1994 in the case of Suarez v. Dickmont Plastics Corp., where the court made the legal ruling as to "actual intent" and "substantial certainty." The court identified the concern with the intentional tort test is that an employer could injure an employee and be subject to workers' compensation damages providing that the employer did not specifically intend to hurt that employee. The substantial certainty test, on the other hand, allows a suit where there is enough evidence to show that the employer specifically directed an employer to hurt himself or herself.

Consequences and explanation

It is important to understand what is not included by the exception, namely: Negligence, and statutory violations that do not amount to intentional injuries. When an employer "intends" an act, it desires the consequences of the act, or believes specific consequences are substantially certain. Malevolence or ill will is not necessarily involved in an intended injury, but more is involved than voluntary action. Both the action and the injury which results have to be intentional.

What if the employer is a corporation? Is it enough that a supervisory employee commits an intentional tort? The simple answer is "no." The person committing the tort must be a high ranking employee acting as the "alter ego" of the corporation. In the recent case of Patel v. Flexo Converters, the court expounded on this concept. The corporation must be indistinguishable from the individual and have no separate identity; the supervisor cannot act on the corporation's behalf, but must dominate the corporation.

Conclusion

If you are injured as the result of an incident while at work, and you believe that your injury was caused by the intentional act of your employer, you should immediately contact an experienced workers' compensation attorney to investigate the facts of your situation and determine whether you may be able to file a civil suit for damages and secure the relief to which you are entitled.