Amputee from Work Accident Cannot Sue Employer

April 16, 2008 ( - The Vermont Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court decision to dismiss claims brought by an Ethan Allen factory worker whose hand was amputated in a workplace accident.

The Supreme Court used state workers’ compensation law to affirm the dismissal of claims, citing provisions of the statute that say workers’ compensation is the only remedy for employees unless they have a claim against a third party, not the employer or an employee/employer safety committee. Rodney Chayer sought civil damages against Ethan Allen, twelve named co-employees, Travelers Insurance Company, and the Employer/Employee/Insurance Safety Committee of Ethan Allen, Inc., the opinion said.

Chayer contended that the safety committee knew the machine in which his hand was caught was unsafe and knew “in detail” what measures would make it safe, but did nothing. “The Ethan Allen defendants were present at a meeting at which the machine that amputated plaintiff’s hand was characterized by plaintiff and others as inherently dangerous and inadequately protected by safety devices, in particular by brakes and guards,” the opinion said.

Chayer argued that a provision in state law that said he would be prohibited from commencing a civil action against the defendants except in the case of gross negligence or willful misconduct authorized his suit. However, the court found that interpreting the provision in such way would disturb “the balance” intended by workers; compensation law, which the court described as “the employee gives up the right to sue the employer in tort in return for which the employer assumes strict liability and the obligation to provide a speedy and certain remedy.”

The opinion in Chayer v. Ethan Allen, Inc. (2006-124) is here .