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Employer’s Tort Immunity Clarified Under Workers’ Compensation Act (PA)

November 21, 2019

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<p style="text-align: justify;">The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently issued an opinion that explained and clarified the tort immunity standard under the ‘borrowed employee’ doctrine as it applies to employers under the Worker’s Compensation Act (WCA).  In <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Burrell-v.-Streamlight-Inc..pdf">Burrell v. Streamlight Inc.</a> </em>2019 PA Super 335, No. 908 EDA 2019, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s granting of Streamlight’s motion for summary judgment that argued that Streamlight, as Burrell’s employer, was immune from tort liability following its awarding of workers’ compensation benefits.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Burrell was a temporary worker who was hired by a temp agency, Aerotek, and was assigned as a temporary worker at Streamlight.  Burrell was injured when he fell during his work shift at Streamlight while he was disposing of trash at Streamlight’s facility.  Burrell admitted that his injury occurred in the course and scope of his employment at Streamlight and that he received workers’ compensation benefits for his injury.  Subsequently, he filed a personal injury action against Streamlight and Streamlight then moved for summary judgment following the close of discovery alleging that it was immune from tort liability under the WCA.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In its opinion, the Court articulated the general rule in Pennsylvania that, except in limited circumstances not present in the instant case, an employer is immune from tort liability for injuries suffered by its employees that are compensable under the WCA.  The Court further noted that, under the borrowed employee doctrine, when a worker employed by one company is furnished by that company to perform work for another company, the latter company is his employer under the WCA if it has the right to control his work and the manner in which the work is done.  In other words, the entity possessing the right to control the servant’s work is the employer for purposes of the WCA and its tort immunity.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In concluding that Streamlight possessed the right to control Burrell’s work and therefore was his employer for purposes of the WCA, the Court emphasized that Streamight: set Burrell’s hours, job duties, and where he would be performing his work; interviewed Burrell and made the decision as to the job he would do before Aerotek assigned Burrell to Streamlight; supervised Burrell and answered Burrell’s questions about his work; and answered any questions regarding Burrell’s work hours. Furthermore, there was no claim that Burrell was operating under Aerotek’s direction or supervision when he was taking out the trash when he was injured.  Therefore, the Superior Court affirmed the lower court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of Streamlight and ruled that Streamlight was Burrell’s employer as a matter of law and was therefore immune from tort liability following its provision of workers’ compensation benefits.</p>
Thank you to Gregory D. Herrold for his contribution to this post.  If you have any questions please contact <a href="mailto:vterrasi@wcmlaw.com">Vincent Terrasi</a>.<strong><em>
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