RAJANIKANT PATEL v. FLEXO CONVERTERS U.S.A., INC., SC 18817
Judicial District of New Haven
Torts; Workers' Compensation; Whether Plaintiff's Action Seeking Damages for Workplace Injury Falls Within Substantial Certainty Exception to Exclusivity Rule of Workers' Compensation Act; Whether Supervisor the Alter Ego of Employer for Purposes of Exception to Exclusivity Rule. The plaintiff brought this action against his employer, seeking to recover for injuries he sustained at work while attempting to dislodge a bag from a machine he was operating. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant employer intentionally altered the machine so that it would continue to operate when a safety door was open. The plaintiff also claimed that his supervisor threatened to terminate him if he shut down the machine or if he failed to produce ninety bags per minute and that his supervisor required him to reach into the machine to attempt to dislodge jammed bags while it was operating. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff's claims are barred by the exclusivity provision of the Workers' Compensation Act, which generally bars an employee from suing his employer in connection with injuries sustained in the workplace. The plaintiff argued that his action falls within an exception to the exclusivity rule which allows an employee to sue where an employer intentionally created a dangerous condition that made the employee's injuries substantially certain to occur. The trial court found that there were issues of fact as to whether the defendant altered the machine to operate with the safety door open and as to whether the plaintiff's supervisor told him that he had to run the machine at ninety bags per minute and instructed him to reach into the machine while it was still operating. The court further found, however, that the plaintiff failed to provide any evidence of the defendant's state of mind to support the inference that the defendant altered the machine with the belief that it was substantially certain that the plaintiff's injuries would occur. The court also refused to impute the supervisor's actions to the defendant employer, citing appellate precedent suggesting that a supervisory employee can never be deemed the alter ego of the employer for purposes of applying the "substantial certainty" exception to the exclusivity bar. The trial court concluded, accordingly, that the plaintiff's action was barred by the exclusivity provision of the Workers' Compensation Act and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff appeals, claiming that the trial court erred in ruling that, as a matter of law, the supervisor could not be deemed the alter ego of the defendant employer.