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THOMPSON v. IBM

September 6, 1994

GLENN THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS MACHINES CORPORATION, Defendant. INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS MACHINES CORPORATION, Third-Party Plaintiff, v. SARNAFIL, INC. and SARNAFIL SERVICES, INC., Third-Party Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: VINCENT L. BRODERICK

 VINCENT L. BRODERICK, U.S.D.J.

 I

 This litigation grows out of a workplace accident injuring plaintiff Glenn Thompson, a Massachusetts resident, while employed by third-party defendant Sarnafil Services, Inc. (the "employer"), a Massachusetts contractor, during performance of construction work at premises of defendant International Business Machines Corporation ("IBM") in the Southern District of New York. Jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship. Plaintiff asserts a claim against IBM, and relies upon New York Labor Law 240. IBM has filed third-party complaints against alleged employers of plaintiff on grounds they contributed to the accident.

 Plaintiff and IBM ask the court to rule that New York law applies to the case. The employer seeks dismissal on grounds of coverage by Massachusetts' workers compensation law. Third party defendant Sarnafil, Inc. ("SI"), which appears to have a relationship of unknown nature with the employer, moves for summary judgment on the ground of lack of involvement in plaintiff's accident. *fn1"

 New York choice of law rules are applicable, and New York law will determine the liability of IBM, if any, with respect to any provisions of the New York Labor Law. It would be premature to rule on the law applicable to IBM's claim against the third-party defendant employer with respect to any Labor Law liability until it is determined whether or not any New York Labor Law provisions impose liability upon IBM under the facts of this case.

 II

 In this diversity of citizenship case, the choice-of-law rules of New York, the site of the forum, are applicable. Klaxon Co v. Stentor Electric Mfg Co, 313 U.S. 487, 85 L. Ed. 1477, 61 S. Ct. 1020 (1941); AroChem International v. Buirkle, 968 F.2d 266, 269 (2d Cir 1992).

 New York courts do not treat all of the law of a single state's law as necessarily applicable to all aspects of a suit; instead, New York courts look to the interests of states the law of which is potentially applicable to particular issues under consideration. In implementing this interest-based approach, New York's highest court has applied workers' compensation laws of other states where out-of-state employers are involved and the balance of relevant interests supports that result. Cooney v. Osgood Machinery, 81 N.Y.2d 66, 595 N.Y.S.2d 919, 612 N.E.2d 277 (1993); see also Roach v. McGuire & Bennett, 146 A.D.2d 89, 539 N.Y.S.2d 138 (3d Dept 1989); Platano v. Norm's Castle, 830 F. Supp. 796 (SDNY 1993); Boyle v. Texasgulf Aviation, 696 F. Supp. 951 (SDNY 1988); Lewis v. Chemetron Corp, 448 F. Supp. 211 (WD Pa 1978). *fn2"

 Massachusetts law protects employers who pay workers' compensation contributions in that state from tort liability in connection with workplace injuries. 28 Mass. Workmen's Compensation Law § 23 ("Section 23") provides that acceptance of compensation constitutes a release of "all claims or demands at common law, if any, arising from the injury." The purpose of this and similar statutes in other states is to protect employers who contribute to the cost of no-fault protection from workplace injuries from being subjected to lawsuits based on the same injuries, thereby encouraging compliance with the compensation laws and making it practical to pay the premiums. See authorities cited Gray v. Cleaning Systems, 834 F. Supp. 123, 126-27 (SDNY 1993).

 The Massachusetts workers' compensation law protects contributing Massachusetts employers from suits based on accidents occurring in or outside the state. Saharceski v. Marcure, 373 Mass. 304, 366 N.E.2d 1245 (1977); English v. Hartford, 739 F. Supp. 50 (D Mass 1990). New York policy favors the recognition of such rules of other states in "enforcing the decision of its domiciliaries [employer and employee here] to accept the burdens as well as the benefits of that State's loss-distribution tort rules." Schultz v. Boy Scouts of America, 65 N.Y.2d 189, 201, 491 N.Y.S.2d 90, 98, 480 N.E.2d 679 (1985). The protection afforded out-of-state employers by such laws in their home states have been honored where an accident occurs in New York involving, as here, both out-of-state employers and out-of-state employees. Gray v. Cleaning Systems, supra.

 As illustrated by Cooney v. Osgood, there is no sufficiently strong local New York interest contrary to the protection Massachusetts offers its contributing employers to lead to a contrary result. This is particularly true if the limitation to workers' compensation recovery applies to a Massachusetts resident.

 Applicability of section 23 to statutory, as distinct from common law, claims imposed by another state in which work is performed presents questions of the extent to which the statute creates liability within the overall ambit of what would be deemed common law claims under the Massachusetts statute, and whether immunity from the statute would undermine safety policies of the state (New York) where the work was undertaken. These questions have not been fully considered by the ...


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