Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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Claimant Joanne Perrault appealed the Commissioner of Labor’s decision on summary judgment denying her workers’ compensation benefits. On appeal, claimant argued she was an employee of defendant Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA) for the purposes of workers’ compensation and, therefore, was entitled to benefits. Claimant applied to be a driver in CCTA’s volunteer program in 2014. Once through the application process, a volunteer driver was governed by CCTA’s volunteer manual. This manual, in addition to explaining certain restrictions and requirements, also stated that the manual should not be understood to mean that any employment contract existed between CCTA and the volunteer driver. Drivers received money from CCTA based on the miles driven in a given period and calculated at the federal mileage rate. The CCTA manual referred to this monetary payment as reimbursement, and stated that CCTA would perform random checks to verify the accuracy of mileage submissions. This was the only monetary or other exchange between CCTA and drivers in the volunteer program. CCTA provided insurance on drivers’ vehicles on a secondary basis and encouraged drivers to carry more than the minimum required insurance and to name CCTA as an additional insured on their personal vehicle insurance policies. Drivers in the program were required to meet standards set by CCTA and were subject to certain restrictions, which were similar to the restrictions governing CCTA’s regular drivers. On December 1, 2015, claimant had an automobile accident. At the time of the accident, she was driving a CCTA rider to an appointment. Claimant sustained significant injuries in the accident, including a broken neck at the third and fourth vertebrae, a fractured spine, and broken ribs. She subsequently sought workers’ compensation benefits. The Vermont Supreme Court held that, because claimant did not receive wages, she could not be considered a statutory employee as that term was defined for the application of workers’ compensation. View "Perrault v. Chittenden County Transportation Authority" on Justia Law

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Claimant Catherine Lyons appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the Department of Labor Commissioner (the Commissioner), which found she did not qualify for workers’ compensation benefits for an injury sustained while student teaching at a school in the defendant supervisory union. Because the Vermont Supreme Court held claimant fell within the statutory definition of an employee for purposes of workers’ compensation, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings in accord with this opinion. View "Lyons v. Chittenden Central Supervisory Union" on Justia Law

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Claimant Catherine Lyons appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the Department of Labor Commissioner (the Commissioner), which found she did not qualify for workers’ compensation benefits for an injury sustained while student teaching at a school in the defendant supervisory union. Because the Vermont Supreme Court held claimant fell within the statutory definition of an employee for purposes of workers’ compensation, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings in accord with this opinion. View "Lyons v. Chittenden Central Supervisory Union" on Justia Law

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This case was the second arising from the near-fatal assault of Michael Kuligoski by Evan Rapoza, who had previously been diagnosed with schizophreniform disorder. Here, members of the Kuligoski family(plaintiffs) brought suit against Evan’s grandparents, claiming that they were liable for Evan’s assault of Mr. Kuligoski while Mr. Kuligoski was repairing the furnace at their rental property. Plaintiffs claimed, among other things, that the grandparents were vicariously liable for Evan’s father’s negligent hiring or supervision of Evan, who was there to help his father repaint an apartment. On appeal, plaintiffs sought to reverse the grant of summary judgment in favor of the grandparents. Plaintiffs argued the trial court erred by determining that grandparents could not be held vicariously liable for the attack because it was not reasonably foreseeable. In granting the grandparents' motion, the trial court concluded: (1) to the extent plaintiffs were alleging direct liability on the part of grandparents based on a claim of negligent supervision, that claim failed as a matter of law because it was undisputed that on the day of the assault grandparents were unaware of Evan’s mental-health issues; and (2) notwithstanding the ambiguity as to whether father was grandparents’ employee, grandparents owed no duty to Mr. Kuligoski because Evan’s parents did not undertake to render services by monitoring Evan’s treatment after his release from the Brattleboro Retreat and because, even assuming that father was grandparents’ employee, Evan’s assault against Mr. Kuligoski was not foreseeable. Given the Vermont Supreme Court's determination that, as a matter of law, no employer-employee relationship existed between grandparents and father that would subject grandparents to vicarious liability for any negligence on father’s part in bringing Evan to the workplace on the day he assaulted Mr. Kuligsoki, plaintiffs’ remaining claim in this lawsuit was unsustainable. The Court therefore affirmed, but on grounds different than those used by the trial court. View "Kuligoski v. Rapoza" on Justia Law

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Cheryl Brown and Matthew Denis were involved in a traffic accident, when Denis’s truck bumped into Brown’s car from behind. Denis claimed the accident happened when he inadvertently took his foot off the brake as he turned to roll the rear window down to provide fresh air to his dog, who was riding in the back seat. Denis’s truck, which was positioned behind Brown’s car, rolled forward five to six feet, striking her rear bumper. The collision took place in stop-and-go traffic. Denis, a sergeant with the Vermont State Police, estimated his speed at impact to be two miles per hour and did not believe there was any damage caused to Brown’s vehicle from the collision. Brown claimed the impact caused a scratch on her rear bumper. The truck Denis was driving did not have any markings indicating it was a police vehicle. Brown filed suit against the State of Vermont alleging it was responsible for injuries she sustained in the accident due to Denis’s negligence. Brown also raised constitutional claims, alleging: (1) due process and equality of treatment violations under the Vermont Constitution’s Common Benefits Clause, and (2) an equal protection, and possibly a due process, claim under the United States Constitution. Brown did not name Denis as a defendant in her suit. Brown’s constitutional claims were based on her assertion that Denis received favorable treatment because he was not prosecuted for causing the accident or leaving the scene without providing identifying information. Before trial, the court dismissed the due process and equal protection claims under the United States Constitution on the basis that Brown had only sued the State, and not Denis personally, and that the State was not a “person” for claims arising under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The court further ruled that Brown lacked standing to assert any claim based on the State’s failure to prosecute Denis. The court also dismissed the Common Benefits Clause claim because Brown lacked any cognizable interest in the prosecution or discipline of Denis. Lastly, the court held that, to the extent a due process claim had been raised, it was undisputed that Brown received the information required to be exchanged in the event of a car collision shortly after the accident, and her ability to file suit against the State as a result of the accident showed her due process rights were not impeded. On appeal, Brown alleged several errors in pre-trial and trial rulings, as well as in the failure to grant her a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Brown v. Vermont" on Justia Law

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Claimant Lydia Diamond appeals the summary judgment decision of the Commissioner of the Department of Labor denying her claim for PPD benefits associated with the C3-4 levels of her spine. In April 2001, claimant was injured in a motor vehicle collision while delivering newspapers for employer. The crash exacerbated claimant’s preexisting right carpal tunnel syndrome. She underwent right carpal tunnel release surgery in February 2002, and had a surgical release of her left carpal tunnel in January 2003. After the surgeries, it became clear that claimant had unresolved neck pain relating to the work accident. Her doctor diagnosed disc herniations in her cervical spine and in September 2003 performed discectomies at the C5-6 and C6-7 levels of her cervical spine and a two-level cervical fusion at C4-C6. The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a workers’ compensation award of permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits based on damage to the C4-6 levels of claimant’s cervical spine precluded a subsequent award of PPD benefits, more than six years later, for damage to the C3-4 levels of claimant’s spine that arose, over time, from the same work injury. Claimant appealed the grant of summary judgment by the Commissioner of the Department of Labor that denied her claim for PPD benefits associated with the C3-4 levels of her spine. The Commissioner determined that claimant’s request for the additional PPD benefits amounted to a request to modify the prior PPD award and was time-barred. The Supreme Court concluded, based on the specific language of the initial PPD award, it did not purport to encompass injury to other levels of claimant’s cervical spine beyond the C4-6 levels. Accordingly, claimant was not seeking to modify the prior PPD award but, rather, sought PPD benefits for physical damage not encompassed within a previous PPD award. Her claim was therefore timely, and accordingly the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Diamond v. Burlington Free Press" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Ty Baker, Sr. pleaded no contest to grossly negligent operation in violation of 23 V.S.A. 1091(b) after his car collided with and totaled another car. Husband and wife owned the car; wife was driving the car when the accident occurred. Following his conviction and a contested restitution hearing, Baker was ordered to pay $828.88, which were lost wages for husband, who was not in the car at the time of the collision. Baker appealed that restitution order, arguing that husband did not qualify as a “victim” under the restitution statute, that the lost wages were not a “direct result” of defendant’s crime, and that the State’s evidence was insufficient to prove the amount of restitution. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court held that even if husband was a victim under the restitution statute, his lost wages were not a direct result of defendant’s criminal act and therefore fell outside the scope of Vermont’s restitution statute, 13 V.S.A. 7043. Accordingly, the Court reversed and vacated the restitution order. View "Vermont v. Baker" on Justia Law

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Claimant Kimberly Haller was an employee of Champlain College when she suffered a work-related injury. Claimant had taken numerous courses at Champlain College pursuant to its “Tuition Benefits” policy. In the twenty-six weeks prior to her injury, claimant completed over ten credits of classwork at the College. The issue presented to the Department of Labor on cross-motions for summary judgment was whether the value of these tuition benefits should be included in the calculation of claimant’s average weekly wage for the purposes of her permanent partial disability benefit. The Commissioner concluded the tuition benefits was an “other advantage” that constituted part of claimant’s wages. The College argued on appeal the tuition benefit was not an "other advantage," nor did it amount to "remuneration" as defined in the applicable workers' compensation laws. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the Commissioner that where the non-health-insurance benefits at issue had actual monetary value and were actually received by the employee, they fell within the broad “other advantages” language. The Court concluded the Commissioner's determination was not unreasonable and affirmed. View "Haller v. Champlain College" on Justia Law

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J.C. Penney Corporation (employer) sought interlocutory review of the Commissioner of the Department of Labor’s denial of its motion for summary judgment in this workers’ compensation matter. Specifically, employer argued that the Commissioner lacked authority to invalidate an approved settlement agreement that the parties entered into pursuant to a previous claim. Brandy Clayton (claimant) has worked for employer for several years as a hair stylist. In February 2011, she filed a workers’ compensation claim for heel and arch pain in her left foot after suffering a work-related injury in March 2010 described as a result of standing all day on the job. Employer accepted the claim as compensable. Under the terms of the agreement, claimant received a lump sum payment “in full and final settlement of all claims for any and all benefits, injuries, diseases, illnesses, conditions, and/or symptoms and any and all sequelae allegedly sustained as a result of” her March workplace injury. The agreement included a clause stating that it was “intended to be a general release of all claims of the employee against the employer and the insurance carrier arising from employee’s employment with employer.” On March 17, 2015, approximately six months after the settlement was approved, claimant filed a new notice of injury, this time alleging a March 10, 2015 injury to her right foot. Employer filed a form denial on March 26, 2015, stating that claimant’s new, right-foot claim was denied as a preexisting condition and unrelated to employment. Employer also filed a letter with the Department, arguing that the claim should be dismissed for two reasons: first, that it was barred by the prior settlement agreement; and second, because the right-foot claim was reasonably discoverable and apparent at the time the settlement agreement was executed. Claimant appealed employer’s denial of her claim. The sole issue before the Commissioner was whether the parties’ September 2014 settlement agreement barred claimant’s second claim for workers’ compensation benefits. he Commissioner found that the settlement agreement “convey[ed] a clear and unambiguous message” and that the terms in the settlement agreement that released employer from claims related to the March 26, 2010 injuries were valid and enforceable. However, the Commissioner voided the remainder of the settlement agreement on public policy grounds. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed the Commissioner lacked authority to void the parties’ settlement agreement on public policy grounds, and reversed. View "Clayton v. J.C. Penney Corporation" on Justia Law

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Defendant Hector LeClair, plaintiff Joseph LeClair’s grandfather, was experienced in construction and has developed several properties around the Vermont. In 2011, defendant approached his son, Ricky LeClair, who also worked in construction, about replacing the roof on the building in which defendant had his office. Defendant’s son, Ricky, then approached his twenty-seven-year-old son, plaintiff, about working on defendant’s roofing project. Plaintiff had also worked in construction and was an experienced roofer, but was unemployed at the time. Plaintiff’s father told him he would make “good money” for working on defendant’s roof. Plaintiff’s father supplied the tools, equipment, and materials for the roof job. On October 7, 2011, plaintiff arrived at the property with another person to work on the roof. They had already removed the shingles from the roof, leaving only the underlayment, which on that October morning was covered with dew and early frost. Plaintiff claimed that he initially decided not to work on the roof because the frost made it slippery but changed his mind when defendant arrived at the property and ordered him to begin work. Plaintiff climbed a ladder onto the property’s roof; plaintiff fell from the second-story roof and landed on the paved driveway below, sustaining serious and permanent head and spinal injuries. Plaintiff sued defendant for his injuries, and appealed when the trial court granted defendant summary judgment. Plaintiff argued the trial court erred by concluding that defendant owed him no duty and that the court abused its discretion by denying his motion to amend his complaint to add a new liability theory. Given the circumstances of this case, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed that the trial court erred in concluding, as a matter of law on summary judgment, that defendant owed no duty to plaintiff. View "LeClair v. LeClair" on Justia Law