This case raised the issue whether the Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (“Act”) bars an employee from suing a co-employee for workplace injuries related to a piece of equipment that the co-employee had purchased for the employer’s use. Plaintiff David Tremblay, an employee of Shield Packaging Company, was severely injured while changing a tire on a backhoe. Defendant Bruce Simpson, vice president of operations at Shield, had bought the backhoe in 1985 for Shield’s use. Tremblay received $750,000 in workers’ compensation from Shield’s insurer for his injuries, and settled his product liability claims against the manufacturers of the backhoe. Tremblay sued Simpson, alleging Simpson was negligent in transferring the backhoe to Shield by failing to warn about the risks posed by the multi-piece tire rims, and by failing to remove these rims. The Superior Court allowed Simpson’s motion for summary judgment on the ground that the Act bars work-related tort claims against a co-employee. The SJC granted Tremblay’s application for direct appellate review and affirmed the Superior Court’s decision.
NELF, on its own behalf and on behalf of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, filed a brief in support of Simpson and Shield. The SJC agreed with NELF’s position that allowing an employee to sue a co-employee for tort liability under these circumstances would defeat the Act’s clear purpose of establishing a comprehensive and exclusive statutory remedy for work-related injuries. In particular, the SJC adopted nearly verbatim NELF’s argument that the SJC, in a prior case, had conclusively established coemployee immunity when an employee's equipment indirectly served the employer's interest, by providing the employee with transportation to and from work. The SJC agreed with NELF that coemployee immunity should therefore apply in this case, where the instrumentality directly serves the employer's interest, by performing services for the employer's benefit and profit. In its brief, NELF also argued that the co-employee’s immunity from suit is part of the general quid pro quo between employer and employee that the SJC and courts from other jurisdictions have recognized under workers’ compensation statutes. Allowing co-employee liability under the circumstances of this case would also defeat the Act’s purpose of placing the cost of industrial accidents on the employer rather than the employee.