From Casetext: Smarter Legal Research

CNA Insurance Companies v. Sliski

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Hampden
Mar 15, 2001
433 Mass. 491 (Mass. 2001)


In Sliski,supra, the court dealt specifically with § 65(2)(e)(ii), which prohibits payment of § 28 benefits by the Trust Fund. The provision at issue in this case, § 65(2)(e)(i), was enacted simultaneously with § 65(2)(e)(ii), and was thus another "part of this cost cutting legislative package."

Summary of this case from Chico v. Merrimac Employment Services, No



December 4, 2000

March 15, 2001

Present: Marshall, C.J., Greaney, Ireland, Spina, Cowin, Sosman, JJ

Workers' Compensation Act, Double compensation, Serious and wilful misconduct of employer, Insurer. Statute, Construction. Public Policy

Discussion of the double compensation provisions of G.L.c. 152, § 28, applicable to circumstances in which an employee is injured due to seriousand wilful misconduct by the employer. [493-495]

This court concluded that the purpose of the provisions of G.L.c 152, § 28, is not to punish employers but to compensate employees [495], and in circumstances in which an employer's insolvency prevents the repayment to the insurer of extra (double) compensation payable to the employee under that section, the purpose of the workers' compensation laws is properly effectuated by placing the risk of such insolvency on the insurer and not the injured employee [495-499] spina, J., dissenting, with whom IRELAND, J. joined

Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on June 18, 1993

The case was heard by C. Brian McDonald, J

The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court

John F. Burke, Jr., for the plaintiff

Paul F. Schneider ( Charles R. Casartello, Jr., with him) for the defendant

In this declaratory judgment action, CNA Insurance Companies (CNA) seeks to establish that it is not responsible to an injured worker for payment of double compensation under G.L.c. 152, § 28, of the workers' compensation act (act) for the alleged serious and wilful misconduct of the worker's employer because the employer is insolvent and unable to repay CNA as provided in the statute. A judge in the Superior Court concluded that CNA must pay the double compensation and entered a final declaratory judgment to that effect CNA appealed and we transferred the case to this court on our own motion. We affirm the judgment

General Laws c. 275, § 2, provides: "If complaint is made to any such court or justice that a person has threatened to commit a crime against the person or property of another, such court or justice shall examine the complainant and any witnesses who may be produced, on oath, reduce the complaint to writing and cause it to be subscribed by the complainant."

1. On June 9, 1988, when James Sliski was eighteen years old, he fell through an elevator shaft at work and suffered spinal injuries that left him a paraplegic. At the time of his injuries, Sliski was employed by Doane Williams, Inc. (Doane Williams), which was insured by CNA. CNA accepted liability for Sliski's injury and commenced payment of weekly workers' compensation benefits pursuant to G.L.c. 152, § 34.

The judge found that the first drawing could not have constituted a threat because the juvenile himself did not communicate it to Mrs F.

Sliski alleged that his injuries were the result of serious and wilful misconduct by Doane Williams, and on March 23, 1989, he filed with the Department of Industrial Accidents (department) a claim for double compensation pursuant to G.L.c. 152, § 28. Notice of the claim was given to both CNA and Doane Williams, but the record does not indicate what, if any, action was taken on that claim. In 1991, Doane Williams ceased to do business, and its assets were sold in lieu of foreclosure by a secured creditor. On June 2, 1992, Sliski refiled his claim for double compensation. CNA filed a denial of the refiled claim on June 5, 1992, and subsequently filed with the department a motion to dismiss, raising the statute of limitations and laches as defenses, and claiming that it was not liable for payment of double compensation to Sliski because its insured had become insolvent. An administrative judge in the department denied the motion on June 8, 1993. Sliski's § 28 claim remains pending before the department and has been stayed pending the outcome of this action

2. CNA argues that, because double compensation is available to an employee only on a showing of serious and wilful misconduct by the employer, the purpose of the provision is to punish the employer and to deter other employers from engaging in such misconduct. To require CNA to make such payments to Sliski with no possibility of repayment by Doane Williams, it argues, defeats the punitive purpose of the statute, violates the public policy against providing insurance coverage for punitive damages, and violates its due process rights. It likens the § 28 double compensation to multiple damage awards for a wilful and knowing violation of G.L.c. 93A, §§ 9 and 11, which we have acknowledged are avowedly punitive. Kapp v. Arbella Mut. Ins. Co., 426 Mass. 683, 686 (1998)

The language of the statute suggests that the purpose of § 28 is to benefit an injured worker, not to punish the employer, for it describes the double payments as "extra compensation." G.L.c. 152, § 28. See Hoffman v. Howmedica, Inc., 373 Mass. 32, 37 (1977) (statutory language principal source of insight into legislative purpose). See also Thayer's Case, 345 Mass. 36, 43 (1962) ("extra or double award which enures to the benefit of the injured employee under § 28 constitutes, in our opinion, compensation as that term is used in the [act]"). In Boardman's Case, 365 Mass. 185, 193 (1974), this court noted in passing that the doubling provision of § 28 "may have a punitive aspect." But we were not asked in that case to decide whether § 28 was punitive, and any suggestion to that effect does not reflect the legislative intent as evidenced by the legislative history that we discuss below

We have long recognized that the workers' compensation statute was enacted as a "humanitarian measure" in response to strong public sentiment that the remedies afforded by actions of tort at common law did not provide adequate protection to workers who were the victims of industrial accidents. Young v. Duncan, 218 Mass. 346, 349 (1914) LaClair v. Silberline Mfg. Co., 379 Mass. 21, 27 (1979). We have stressed that the statute should be given a broad interpretation, viewed in light of that purpose. Roberge's Case, 330 Mass. 506, 509 (1953) Against that general background we turn to the legislative history of § 28

Section 28 has existed in essentially the same form since the statute was first enacted in 1911. See St. 1911, c. 751, Part II, § 3. Prior to enactment in 1911, the Commission on Compensation for Industrial Accidents submitted a report to the Legislature describing the nature of the proposed new workers' compensation laws, stating they were "not intended to be punitive in any sense, but [were] founded on the principle that the whole community for which production is carried on should bear the burden of all the costs of production" (emphasis added). 1911 House Doc. No. 300, at 2-3

The judge stated: "I don't find that it is necessary for the graphic nature of the violence to be depicted in any way other than the drawing, I don't think you have to be literate in order to write a threatening note, I think that drawings can constitute threats and that, so I find that it was communicated, that the injury if carried out would constitute a crime and that it was reasonable to fear that the defendant had the intention and ability to carry out the threat. I make a finding of sufficient facts in this case."

Then, in 1912, the Massachusetts Commission on Compensation for Industrial Accidents again submitted a report to the Legislature describing the history of the legislation, and providing a commentary on the new act. See Report of the Massachusetts Commission on Compensation for Industrial Accidents (July 1, 1912) (unnumbered). See also Ferriter v. Daniel O'Connell's Sons, 381 Mass. 501, 519-525 n. 21 (1980) Commenting specifically on what is now § 28, the commission noted that this section "grants double compensation for injuries occasioned by the serious and wilful misconduct of the employer," adding that the provision was made because the commission "thought it equitable to provide a double compensation for the injuries occasioned by serious and wilful misconduct of the employer." Report of the Massachusetts Commission on Compensation for Industrial Accidents, supra at 48. There is no hint of any punitive intent. Rather, the sole focus was on the equitable compensation of injured workers. We recognize, as does the dissent, that the award of double compensation is determined "by the character of the employer's conduct." Infra at 499. A worker who is injured by the "serious and wilful misconduct" of an employer must forgo the recovery of tort damages that would likely be far more substantial and a common-law claim with a greater likelihood of success than his recovery or claim could be for injuries resulting from an employer's mere negligent conduct. The Legislature could, and in our judgment did, conclude that it would be equitable to award such a worker double compensation in recognition of the greater value of the common-law claim given up. These were not punitive damages by some other name. See infra at 500

In light of this unambiguous history, we conclude that the purpose of § 28 has never been punitive. See Assessors of Newton v. Pickwick Ltd., 351 Mass. 621, 625 (1967) ("a construction [of a statute which] would completely negate legislative intent . . . is to be avoided"). One respected commentator has reached the same conclusion:

"The double compensation paid the employee where the injury is the result of the employer's serious and wilful misconduct is not . . . a 'penalty.' It is compensation, in the generic sense, encompassing all monetary payments under the act. Proceedings under [§] 28, therefore, should be subject to the general rule of liberal construction applicable to other cases under the act . . . ."

L. Locke, Workmen's Compensation § 286, at 327 (2d ed. 1981) Because we conclude that § 28 is not punitive, we need not consider CNA's due process claim that rests on such an assumption. For the same reason, there is no merit to CNA's argument that it would be against public policy to require CNA to pay "punitive" damages targeted at the employer. Public policy, as articulated by the Legislature, clearly places on CNA the obligation to pay this double compensation, however it is characterized

3. Our conclusion that § 28 double compensation is not punitive does not end our inquiry, for we still must decide whether the risk of an employer's insolvency should be borne by the insurer or by the injured employee. Both CNA and Sliski argue that the language of the statute compels the result each seeks. But resort to that familiar rule of construction sheds little light here. The statute unambiguously mandates double payment to the injured employee by the insurer if the employer is insured. See West's Case, 313 Mass. 146, 154 (1943) (under § 28, claim for double compensation "in the first instance is to be paid by the insurer"). See also L. Locke, Workmen's Compensation, supra at § 289, at 341. However, the statute then provides that the employer "shall repay to the insurer the extra compensation paid to the employee." G.L.c. 152, § 28

CNA asserts that the statute "clearly places the ultimate responsibility of making the § 28 payment on the employer and not the insurer." But the text of § 28 does not mandate that result: it is silent as to the allocation of risk where the employer itself is insolvent. The legislative scheme as a whole, and the legislative history of the specific provision at issue, however, suggest a resolution. The purpose of the workers' compensation laws in general, and § 28 in particular, is properly effectuated by placing the risk of the employer's insolvency on the insurer, and not the injured employee

The juvenile also seeks de novo review of the second drawing because "the trial court's determination of [the juvenile's] ability and intention was based solely on the documentary evidence of the second drawing." See Balcam v. Hingham, 41 Mass. App. Ct. 260, 261 (1996); Guempel v. Great Am. Ins. Co., 11 Mass. App. Ct. 845, 848 (1981). This argument is without merit because the evidence was "of mixed character — live and documentary." Cornwall v. Forger, 27 Mass. App. Ct. 336, 338 (1989). In addition to the two drawings, the Commonwealth presented live testimony from both Mrs. F and the teacher who confiscated the first drawing.

"The history of workmen's compensation in this Commonwealth shows that the Legislature gradually but consistently has enlarged the scope of the laws pertaining to it, and that the courts have construed those laws liberally for the protection of the injured employee." Roberge's Case, 330 Mass. 506, 509 (1953), and cases cited. To this end, in LaClair v Silberline Mfg. Co., 379 Mass. 21 (1979), we recognized a common-law right against the individual officers of an insolvent company for negligent failure to procure workers' compensation insurance. We noted that insolvency "is a risk of the free enterprise system, and that the penalties should not be assessed on disabled employees," who are entitled to full compensation, even though their employer suffered bankruptcy. Id. at 29-30 n. 11. For much the same reason we discern that the Legislature did not intend that a worker who suffers a catastrophic injury because of the serious and wilful misconduct of his employer should bear the brunt of the employer's insolvency. See Armstrong's Case, 416 Mass. 796, 801 n. 9 (1994) ("We think it probable, therefore, that the reference to compensation in § 28 also contemplates benefits paid by the insurer"). See also Boardman's Case, 365 Mass. 185, 193 (1974), where we observed that double compensation is a "tacit acknowledgment" that the act "ordinarily affords the employee rather slim recovery, which deserves to be increased down the line when the employer is conceived to be seriously at fault."

We do this because the juvenile characterized these determinations as factual findings subject to the "clearly erroneous" standard in his brief. However, it is not clear that such findings were actually factual in nature, and may be more aptly characterized as "ultimate findings of fact and rulings of law." Commonwealth v. Judge, 420 Mass. 433, 447 (1995). Commonwealth v. Stirk, 16 Mass. App. Ct. 280, 287 (1983) (Dreben, J., dissenting), S. C., 392 Mass. 909 (1984), quoting Cuyler v Sullivan, 446 U.S. 335, 342 (1980) ("ultimate ruling is a 'mixed determination of law and fact.'" Such findings "as they bear on issues of constitutional dimension, are open for reexamination by this court, [but] such ultimate findings are 'entitled to substantial deference by this court.'" Commonwealth v. Judge, supra, quoting Commonwealth v Bottari, 395 Mass. 777, 780 (1985). See Commonwealth v. Conkey, 430 Mass. 139, 144 (1999)
("we give substantial deference to [such findings], but we independently apply the constitutional principles to the facts found"). Indeed, "[o]ur appellate function requires that we make an independent determination on the correctness of the judge's 'application of the constitutional principles to the facts as found.'" Commonwealth v. Bookman, 386 Mass. 657, 661-662 n. 6 (1982), quoting Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387, 403 (1977). Nonetheless, were we to adhere to this standard, we would "see no sufficient basis for interfering with the findings and conclusion of the judge." Commonwealth v. Bookman, supra.

In finding that the second drawing constituted a threat, the judge considered the first drawing, which he found to "portray an act of violence being perpetrated upon the teacher." The fact that the judge ruled that the first drawing was not a separate threat because the juvenile did not communicate it to Mrs. F, see note 3, supra, did not diminish its evidentiary value and he could have inferred the juvenile's intent from it.

Unlike some other States, the Massachusetts statute makes no provision insulating insurance carriers from payment of double compensation. In recent years our Legislature has enacted significant revisions to the workers' compensation statute. See, e.g., St. 1991, c. 398; St. 1985, c. 572. Had the Legislature intended to accomplish the result sought here by CNA, it could readily have made such a provision explicit. For example, the Legislature, in 1985, established for the first time a trust fund through which an injured employee, whose employer had illegally failed to obtain workers' compensation insurance, could be compensated. See G.L.c. 152, § 65 (2) ( e), as appearing in St. 1985, c. 572, § 55. There was no explicit limitation on the compensation available to the injured worker from the trust fund, including double compensation for a worker injured by the serious and wilful misconduct of an uninsured employer. Id. In 1991, in response to a growing concern that the trust fund was seriously underfunded, the Legislature amended the statute to provide explicitly that the statutory fund (and only the fund) would no longer be responsible for double compensation provided under § 28. G.L.c. 152, § 65 (2) ( e), as appearing in St. 1991, c. 398, § 85 See generally 452 Code Mass. Regs. § 3.04 (1997). It is argued that when, in 1991, the Legislature specified that § 28 benefits were not payable from the trust fund, it must have intended to prohibit payment of double compensation by all insurers who would not be reimbursed by their insured, such as CNA. But it is a familiar principle of statutory interpretation that express mention of one matter excludes other similar matters not mentioned. Spence, Bryson, Inc. v. China Prods. Co., 308 Mass. 81, 88 (1941). The Legislature has determined that only the trust fund is not responsible for payment of double compensation to an injured worker whose employer is insolvent

The intent that must be expressed is an intent to commit a crime We note that both drawings depict extreme fear on the part of Mrs. F and express the juvenile's desire to instill such fear on her part. Assuming that the drawings should not be interpreted as an intent to actually shoot Mrs. F, an intent to assault her by means of a dangerous weapon would still constitute an intent to commit a crime.

We take judicial notice of the fact that, prior to this incident, the following highly publicized school shootings had occurred: On February 2, 1996, in Moses Lake, Washington, a fourteen year old fatally shot a teacher and two students and wounded another student; on February 19, 1997, in Bethel, Alaska, a sixteen year old shot and killed his principal and a student, and wounded two other students; on October 1, 1997, in Pearl, Mississippi, a sixteen year old boy shot his mother, and then went to school and shot nine students, two fatally; on December 1, 1997, in West Paducah, Kentucky, a fourteen year old student shot and killed three students and wounded five others; on March 24, 1998, in Jonesboro, Arkansas, two boys, aged eleven and thirteen years, shot to death four girls and a teacher, and wounded ten others during a false fire alarm; on April 24, 1998, in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, a fourteen year old student was charged with fatally shooting his science teacher at an eighth grade dance; on May 19, 1998, in Fayetteville, Tennessee, an eighteen year old honor student allegedly shot his classmate to death in the parking lot of their high school; on May 21, 1998, in Springfield, Oregon, a fifteen year old boy allegedly shot and killed two of his classmates and wounded more than twenty other students; on June 15, 1998, in Richmond, Virginia, a fourteen year old allegedly wounded one teacher and one guidance counselor in a high school. This tragic trend regrettably continued after the incident at issue in this case occurred On April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, two young men fatally shot fourteen students and one teacher and wounded at least twenty-three others, before taking their own lives. See 25 Feared Dead, 20 Hurt in High School Shooting: Colorado Rampage Ends When 2 Commit Suicide, Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), April 21, 1999 at 1A; Haney, A Timeline of Recent School Shootings (April 27, 2000); ABC News, An Explosion of Violence (Mar. 28, 2000)
We also note that, in 1985, the United States Supreme Court noted that "in recent years, school disorder has often taken particularly ugly forms: drug use and violent crime in the schools have become major social problems." New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 339 (1985) Additionally, in 1995, the United States Supreme Court in a dissent by Justice Breyer noted that "reports, hearings, and other readily available literature make clear that the problem of guns in and around schools is widespread and extremely serious." United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 619 (1995) (Breyer, J., dissenting).

Contrary to the juvenile's assertion, the record does not indicate that the judge considered the question, "Do you want this one too?," as the sole basis for concluding that the threat had been communicated.

Judgment affirmed

I respectfully dissent. In my view, an award of compensation under G.L.c. 152, § 28, is punitive, or exemplary, in nature. Although it inures to the benefit of the party injured, that is generally true of all punitive damages awards. The award is not determined by the injury to the employee, except indirectly; it is determined by the character of the employer's conduct. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908 (1979) We have said that "serious and wilful misconduct" under § 28 "is much more than mere negligence, or even than gross or culpable negligence. It involves conduct of a quasi criminal nature, the intentional doing of something either with the knowledge that it is likely to result in serious injury or with a wanton and reckless disregard of its probable consequences." Thayer's Case, 345 Mass. 36, 39- 40 (1962), quoting Scaia's Case, 320 Mass. 432, 433-434 (1946)

A claim under § 28 is generally not included in the agreement for compensation. See West's Case, 313 Mass. 146, 154 (1943). The real party in interest is the employer, not the insurer, and § 28 permits the employer to "appear and defend against such claim only." See Thayer's Case, supra at 44; West's Case, supra. The insurer's involvement is purely administrative, as the Legislature intended the insurer to be reimbursed by the employer. See Burke v. Atlantic Research Corp., 358 Mass. 764, 766 (1971) (no conflict of interest between insurer and employee in third-party action brought by insurer in employee's name, pursuant to G.L.c. 152, § 15, where insurer is also defending against employee's § 28 claim, because "the insurer stands to suffer no loss from the plaintiff's claim" under § 28) Punitive damages, by any other name, are still punitive damages. I would reverse the judgment

Summaries of

CNA Insurance Companies v. Sliski

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Hampden
Mar 15, 2001
433 Mass. 491 (Mass. 2001)

In Sliski,supra, the court dealt specifically with § 65(2)(e)(ii), which prohibits payment of § 28 benefits by the Trust Fund. The provision at issue in this case, § 65(2)(e)(i), was enacted simultaneously with § 65(2)(e)(ii), and was thus another "part of this cost cutting legislative package."

Summary of this case from Chico v. Merrimac Employment Services, No
Case details for

CNA Insurance Companies v. Sliski

Case Details


Court:Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Hampden

Date published: Mar 15, 2001


433 Mass. 491 (Mass. 2001)
744 N.E.2d 634

Citing Cases

Sellers's Case

The Workers' Compensation Trust Fund (trust fund) was established in 1985, St. 1985, c. 572, § 55, to…

Williams v. Material Handling Installations, No

The law is clear that payments under § 28 are "compensation." See CNA Ins. Co. v. Sliski, 433 Mass. 491,…