Maryland Casualty Company, the workmen's compensation carrier for Baton Rouge Fabricators, Inc., paid a workmen's compensation compromise and settlement to Earl S. Landry, an employee of Fabricators, who was injured while operating equipment leased by Fabricators to Joy Manufacturing Company on a construction job of the latter. Maryland Casualty Company brought this suit against Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, Joy's compensation carrier, for total reimbursement and indemnification or, alternatively, for contribution of one-half the sum expended in the compensation settlement.
At the time of Landry's injury on February 16, 1962, Baton Rouge Fabricators, Inc., made a regular business of renting heavy equipment, with operators, to contractors and others on a temporary basis. According to the statements of Floyd Redman, a field engineer for Joy, and Norman Fugg, a superintendent of Fabricators, which were introduced in lieu of testimony by them, on February 12 Redman in a telephone conversation with Fugg rented a crane from Fabricators for use on Joy's contract for work at the Stauffer Chemical Company plant. The conditions of the rental as expressed in this conversation required Fabricators to provide Joy with a specified type of crane and an operator for the total price or rate of $15.00 per hour. There was no mention of special insurance coverage or indemnification as to either company.
Liberty Mutual Insurance Company filed a peremptory exception to plaintiff's petition for indemnification or contribution, which recognized that Landry was an employee of both companies but urged that as between the special employer (Joy) and the general employer (Fabricators) the special employer was not legally liable for the compensation benefits paid by the general employer, and cited a Court of Appeal case, Casualty Reciprocal Exchange v. Richey Drilling & Well Service (La.App.3rd Cir. 1962), 137 So.2d 127. The trial court sustained Liberty Mutual's exception of no cause of action, but on appeal the First Circuit reversed under a holding contrary to the Third Circuit case and remanded for a trial on the merits. 194 So.2d 204. We
A preliminary issue raised on this appeal questions whether a workmen's compensation compromise settlement can form the basis for fixing the indebtedness of a third party as a solidary obligor. In Morris v. Kospelich, 253 La. 413, 218 So.2d 316, we held: "* * * If the joint tortfeasor requesting contribution proves that a tort was in fact committed, that the defendant was solidarily liable with him for the amount compromised, and that the amount paid was not in excess of the damage inflicted, he may collect his pro rata share from the other joint tortfeasor by virtue of a separate suit. * * *" The record now before us reflects that the settlement was not excessive, and that no real issue is made by the defendant as to its fairness. Additionally, as required by law, the workmen's compensation settlement was approved by a judgment of court, and it should be accorded even greater respect than a tort compromise. We hold that the settlement by this plaintiff may be the basis for a demand for contribution under a solidary obligation.
The principal issue, however, relates to whether contribution is due between a special employer and a general employer which are solidarily liable to an employee for injuries occurring during special employment. Humphreys v. Marquette Casualty Co., 235 La. 355, 103 So.2d 895 (1958), concluded that such an employee may recover from either or both employers, and that they are solidary obligors as to him. Nevertheless, we are not here concerned with the relationship of the employee to the employers, but rather with the allocation of the ultimate loss as between the employers which were by law solidarily liable for the debt.
Two of our Civil Code articles are particularly pertinent. Article 2103 provides in part: "When two or more debtors are liable in solido, whether the obligation arises from a contract, a quasi contract, an offense, or a quasi offense, it should be divided between them. As between the solidary debtors, each is liable only for his virile portion of the obligation." Article 2104 states in part: "If one of the codebtors in solido pays the whole debt, he can claim from the others no more than the part and portion of each."
The basic legal concept of the relationship of solidary obligors among themselves has had little variance for almost 300 years, from the original source in French law to the present law as constituted in Louisiana. 1 Pothier on Obligations § 264 (Evans' tr. 1853); 1 Domat The Civil Law in Its Natural Order § 1834 (Strahan's tr. 1861); 1 Aubry & Rau Cour de droit civil francais § 298B(4) (La. State Law Institute tr. 1965); 2 Pt. 1 Planiol Treatise on the Civil Law §§ 767-771 (La. State Law Institute tr. 1959). Article 2103, prior to its revision in 1960,
The defendant denies contribution, claiming that the plaintiff owes it total indemnification from responsibility and relying upon Civil Code Article 2106, which provides: "If the affair for which the debt has been contracted in solido, concern only one of the coobligors in solido, that one is liable for the whole debt towards the other codebtors, who, with regard to him, are considered only as his securities [sureties]." Article 2106 has as its source an identical French article, Article 1216 of the Code Napoleon, both of which have existed without amendment, and the French commentators both before and after codification have been constant in their interpretation.
Neither the general employer nor the special employer may claim indemnification or security from the other. They are solidary obligors as contemplated by Articles 2103 and 2104, and the plaintiff insurer, having paid the whole debt, may claim from the defendant insurer contribution of one-half of that amount.
For the reasons assigned the judgment of the Court of Appeal is affirmed. All costs of this proceeding are to be paid by the defendant.