Injured Workers’ Legal Rights After a Work Accident in Pennsylvania
Late last year, a Pennsylvania appeals court ruled in favor of a woman who suffered disabling back and head injuries in a fall accident at work. She brought a work injury lawsuit against two contractors she alleged were under contract with her employer to provide housekeeping/maintenance services at her workplace. Hodge v. Aramark, PA Superior Court (Dec. 5, 2017)
The underlying incident occurred at a hospital in Philadelphia where the plaintiff was employed as a nurse. She slipped on a freshly mopped floor and fell backwards, striking her head. As she fell, another hospital worker (from maintenance) yelled to her to watch for the wet floor. No warning signs had been placed around the wet floor. As a result of the fall, the worker sustained severe injuries that prevented her from returning to work.
The trial court in Philadelphia ruled in favor of the contractors and dismissed the case. The plaintiff appealed to the PA Superior Court which ultimately ruled in her favor, reversing the trial court. The issue in the case was Pennsylvania’s Borrowed Servant Rule which often comes into play in work injury lawsuits in PA.
Borrowed Servant Rule in Pennsylvania Work Injury Cases
The borrowed servant rule often comes into play in workers’ compensation cases when there is a legal question as to who the employer actually is. The issue arises when Company A contracts with Company B for some service. When an employee of either company is injured in a work accident, who is the employer, for purposes of paying the workers’ comp claim? The answer depends on which company has the right to control the manner and means of the injured worker’s performance. Even if the worker’s salary gets paid by one company, he or she may be deemed to be a borrowed servant of the other company. Hence the other company which “borrowed” the worker is on the hook for the workers’ comp benefits.
The borrowed servant rule also comes into play when dealing with questions of liability for a borrowed servant/worker’s negligence. When a work accident happens due to the negligence of a co-worker, the injured worker may be able to file a work injury lawsuit to recover for their injuries. The question is who is liable?
The problem is that under Pennsylvania law, injured workers are usually prevented from filing these kinds of lawsuits against their employers. Read more about employer liability for a work accident in PA. But the rule doesn’t apply to other, non-employer parties like a contractor. If a worker was negligent and causes injury to a co-worker, the injured worker may be able to file a lawsuit against an entity which “borrowed” the negligent worker. It’s a rather confusing legal principle, so here’s a very basic example to clarify.
Jack and Tom are co-workers at ABC Company. Jack is in accounting and Tom works on the floor. During the holiday season, their company hires an outside firm, XYZ Company, to help with stacking shelves at the factory. XYZ Company brings in its own forklifts and also uses Tom to help operate the forklifts. One day, Jack is walking into his office, through the main area of the factory, when he is hit by Tom while operating a forklift. The forklift accident happened because XYC Company didn’t train Tom properly on operating a forklift. Jack is seriously injured and makes a workers’ comp claim with ABC Company.
Even though Tom and Jack are both employed by ABC Company, Tom was acting like an employee of XYZ Company at the time of the accident. So, even though Jack can’t sue ABC Company because of the Pennsylvania rule, he could still bring a lawsuit against XYZ Company. It’s not a workers’ comp claim, but a negligence lawsuit. This is precisely what happened in the Hodge case.
In Hodge, the worker who had performed the mopping prior to the plaintiff’s fall was, like the plaintiff, an employee of the hospital. The hospital paid that worker’s salary. However, the contract between the hospital and the maintenance company indicated that the maintenance company would direct and manage some of the hospital’s custodial employees. In other words, the hospital supplied its workers to the contractor in order to furnish the services under the contract. The appeals court found that since the contractor controlled the manner of work performance for the worker who did the mopping, the contractor could be held liable, rather than the hospital. The case was remanded to proceed to trial.
For more info, visit our PA & NJ work injury law library.
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