Workers compensation laws are among the oldest protective labor statutes, dating back to the early 1900’s. Workers compensation embodies a simple tradeoff: employees may not bring personal injury lawsuits against their employers for workplace injuries, but in return there is mandatory insurance so that claims can be processed quickly with funds available for payment, and a workers compensation commission to adjudicate disputes. This tradeoff is known as the workers compensation exclusivity rule.
However, in 1994 Connecticut recognized a narrow exception to the exclusivity rule when the employer has committed an intentional tort by engaging in serious misconduct. The Connecticut Supreme Court concluded that a plaintiff employee could establish an intentional tort claim if the employee could prove that the employer actually intended to cause the injury, or had intentionally created such a dangerous condition that injury was substantially certain to occur (Suarez v. Dickmont Plastics Corporation). However, the Court in that case ultimately determined that the employee failed to offer sufficient evidence of a deliberate intention to harm.
Given that personal injury damages can far exceed workers compensation benefits, civil lawsuits have been filed from time to time attempting to invoke the exception to the exclusivity rule, but are rarely successful. The reason these cases do not succeed is that while injuries may result from an employer’s carelessness or negligence, the exception only applies when the employee can prove that the employer was motivated by an intention to cause harm.
In the recent case of Flick v. Bean, decided in Stamford Superior Court on November 28, 2016, the plaintiff was a clerk at a gas station convenience store who was assaulted by a customer. He claimed that working the late night shift at that particular station exposed him to a high risk of violent crime, but that the gas station owner did not install any safety or security devices, in spite of knowing of previous similar incidents. The court dismissed the complaint because the plaintiff did not allege any facts which would show that the employer held a substantially certain belief that working the night shift at that store would cause someone to be assaulted by a customer.
It seems that in all but the rarest instances, the workers compensation exclusivity rule will apply and employers will continue to be insulated from civil lawsuits for workplace injuries.