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“Borrowed” Plaintiff-Employee Barred from Suit (PA)

June 28, 2018

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On June 22, 2018, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the trial court’s decision in <a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Matranga-v.-U-Haul.pdf">Matranga v. U-Haul</a>.  Plaintiff Marc Matranga was working as a welder at one of U-Haul’s manufacturing facilities in 2013, and was employed by a staffing agency assigned to the manufacturing facility.  While working, a fellow employee in a forklift knocked over a stack of steel frames which then fell on Matranga, injuring him.  He filed suit in 2015.
U-Haul filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis that it was not liable under the defenses of statutory employer, borrowed servant, and contractual waiver and release.  The trial court granted U-Haul’s motion and Matranga appealed.
Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Act provides the exclusive remedy for employees to recover from their employers.  Employers are also statutorily defined as one who permits entry upon the premises occupied by them or under their control, a laborer or assistant hired by an employee or contractor for the performance of a part of the employer’s regular business.  The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania provided a five-part test for one to qualify as a statutory employer which are: 1) an employer who is under contract with an owner or one in the position of the owner; 2) the premises is occupied by or under control of such employer; 3) a subcontract made by such employer; 4) part of employer’s regular business is entrusted to the subcontractor; and 5) an employee of such subcontractor is injured.
The Superior Court then agreed with the trial court and found that U-Haul had a contract with Matranga’s employer and that U-Haul occupied the facility.  In addition, U-Haul entrusted its business to Matranga’s employer through a subcontract.  As such, U-Haul was Matranga’s statutory employer.
The court also found that Matranga was U-Haul’s “borrowed servant” and qualified for the Workers’ Compensation bar under common law as well.  To determine if one is the servant of another, court’s will look at whether an entity has the right to control the work and the manner in which it is done, irrespective if that right is actually exercised.  The court again agreed with U-Haul and found that Matranga was its borrowed servant because U-Haul chose the departments where Matranga worked, he reported to U-Haul supervisors, U-Haul assigned him tasks and trained him, and U-Haul reviewed his work.
And finally, the court found that even if Matranga did not qualify as U-Haul’s employee, he waived his right to assert any claims against U-Haul when signing his employment contract which contained a wavier provision.  For an exculpatory clause to be valid it must: 1) not contravene public policy; 2) must be between persons relating to their private affairs; and 3) each party must be a free bargaining agent so that it is not one of adhesion.  The court found that Matranga had the opportunity to read the contract and actually asked questions about it.  In addition, he provided no evidence to show that he was forced to sign the contract.
This case demonstrates the various defenses available to entities and employers in Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Act provides both statutory and common law bars to plaintiffs’ claims, so long as a defendant qualifies as an “employer”.  Also, well-written waiver provisions in employment contracts can limit liability for a company.  What these cases also demonstrate is that these defenses are difficult to establish in that they have multiple elements to prove.  Thanks to Peter Cardwell for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:BGibbons@wcmlaw.com">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.

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