Case Caption: Beryl Bertrand, Administrator v. Mystic Granite & Marble, Inc., et al.Case Number: S. Ct. Civ. No. 2013-0130Date: 10/27/2015Author: Cabret, Maria M. Citation: Summary:

In wrongful death and survival litigation arising from the death of a worker handling 800 pound slabs of stone, the Superior Court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of a stone wholesaler and a clamp manufacturer, and in ordering that more than $200,000 from a settlement between the estate and decedent's employer be used to reimburse the Government Insurance Fund for medical and funeral payments to decedent and his family. Summary judgment for the wholesaler was based on the issue of causation, but evidence that it loaded the slabs into the shipping container at an unsafe angle, combined with its concession that the angle of the slabs was not disturbed before decedent began unloading them, created a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the wholesaler was negligent. The Superior Court's acceptance of the theory of superseding causation was in direct conflict with 5 V.I.C. § 1451(a), the Territory's comparative negligence statute, which provides that contributory negligence of the plaintiff shall not bar a recovery, but the damages shall be diminished by the trier of fact in proportion to the amount of negligence attributable to the plaintiff. Therefore, the Superior Court erred in granting summary judgment on the estate's negligence claim against the stone wholesaler. Conflicting evidence may not be weighed in ruling on summary judgment, and on the claim against the clamp maker, viewing the evidence before the court in the light most favorable to the estate, statements indicating that the clamp failed were sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact on the issue of causation as to this defendant. Because decedent worked for an uninsured employer, under 24 V.I.C. § 261 he was entitled to workers' compensation from the Government Insurance Fund, which is then authorized to collect from the employer the compensation paid. Thus the Government can recover the $204,014 paid out for this death (plus a penalty) directly from decedent's "uninsured employer" under § 261(a)(2); or it can recover against any settlement or judgment rendered in the estate's favor against the stone wholesaler and the clamp manufacturer in this case as "third persons" under section 24 V.I.C. § 263. But no provision of the Code allows the Government to recover these funds out of a settlement or judgment in the estate's favor against the "uninsured employer" itself. Therefore, the Superior Court erred in holding that the estate must reimburse the Government Insurance Fund out of the settlement with the employer and its president. The October 31, 2013 order granting summary judgment and the November 13, 2013 order directing the estate to reimburse the Government out of the settlement proceeds are reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings.

Attachment: Open Document or Opinion