Judiciary Committee Hears Whistleblower, Product Liability Bills
CBIA opposes three bills pending before the legislature’s Judiciary Committee that may hurt businesses in Connecticut.
The first bill, SB 929, extends whistleblower protection to certain employees.
Connecticut’s whistleblower laws protect an employee from being discharged for reporting a violation or suspected violation of any law or regulation to a public body.
CBIA Counsel Louise DiCocco says the bill adds new sections protecting an employee who objects or refuses to participate in activity that the employee “reasonably believes” constitutes a violation or suspected violation of any law, regulation, or order.
This would be a major broadening of current law, which many feel is appropriately limited to complaints filed with a government authority. Under the bill, an employee could refuse to participate in a work-related activity regardless of whether he or she files a complaint, and based solely on his or her perception of whether it might be a violation or suspected violation of a law.
In addition to these changes, DiCocco told the committee at a March 6 hearing that CBIA opposes doubling—from 90 to 180 days—the time in which an employee may sue if discharged or disciplined in violation of the statute after exhausting all available administrative remedies.
The bill not only doubles the timeline for an employee to take action, it adds remedies that they could seek. In addition to reinstatement and back pay, the bill allows employees to obtain compensatory damages, the removal from their work record of discipline imposed on them, future economic damages, and punitive damages if the employer’s conduct was willful or intentional.
“This is very problematic from an employer perspective,” DiCocco said.
“CBIA believes the existing language whereby damages are expressly limited to reinstatement and back pay should remain.”
Case Law Conflicts
CBIA opposes SB 932, which creates a statutory cause of action for injury to person or property for negligent infliction of emotional distress.
This bill is unnecessary and will likely conflict with current common law and case law and cause confusion, DiCocco said.
“Common law already allows plaintiffs to sue for negligent infliction of emotional distress. It is troublesome the bill also includes attorney’s fees as recoverable damages.”
She noted that attorney’s fees aren’t generally included in negligence claims.
“This could lead to a significant increase in the filing of claims because the plaintiff would no longer be responsible for his/her own fees,” she noted.
Product Liability Change
CBIA also opposes HB 7194, which eliminates a requirement that a claimant not be entitled to compensation under the Connecticut Workers Compensation statutes when determining the repose period for a product liability claim in which the claimant alleges that harm occurred during the useful sale life of the product.
This bill expands liability for product manufacturers and sellers by allowing personal injury claimants, who are otherwise entitled to workers compensation, to sue sellers well beyond 10 years, the current period of repose, as long as they plead useful safe life.
Statutory periods of repose are designed to protect parties from limitless litigation.
For situations involving product liability actions, there is a difference between a statute of limitations and a statutory period of repose.
With a statute of limitations, lawsuits may only be allowed to be brought within a set number of years after the product causes an injury.
Under Connecticut law, the 10-year statute of repose begins to run once the manufacturer or seller has last parted with the product.
This bill allows individuals who are receiving workers compensation to sue under a products-liability theory without the current liability limitations required under Connecticut’s statutory period of repose.
A departure from the existing statutory period of repose liability limitations will expose businesses and manufacturers to increased costs, as they will likely be faced with more lawsuits. This will negatively impact businesses in Connecticut.
“For these reasons, CBIA urges you to oppose these bills,” DiCocco testified.
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