Penn. Higher Court Reaffirms Statutory Employer Defense

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court on March 26 reaffirmed statutory employer defense in a general contractor liability situation, in which a subcontractor was injured in the course of development operate. The high court’s choice overturns a $ 1.5 million jury verdict for the injured employee and the matter has been remanded for even more proceedings.

In the case of Patton vs. Worthington Associates Inc., Worthington Associates Inc., was employed as a general contractor company to perform on a construction undertaking for a Levittown, Penn., church. In turn, Worthington entered into a normal-form subcontract with Patton Development Inc., a Pennsylvania corporation where Earl Patton is the sole shareholder and an worker, to complete carpentry.

In Oct. 2001, while doing work at the development website, Patton fell and sustained injuries to his back, in accordance to court documents. Subsequently, Patton and his wife commenced a civil action towards Worthington, alleging that the firm failed to maintain risk-free situations at the work website.

Worthington moved for summary judgment on the basis that it was Patton’s “statutory employer” and, accordingly, was immune from liability in tort pertaining to perform-related injuries for which they bear secondary liability below the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act.

Right after the motion was denied, a trial commenced and Worthington reasserted its declare to immunity. The jury found Patton was an independent contractor of Worthington and that Worthington is not immune from civil liability related to Patton’s injuries. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Pattons in the sum of $ one.5 million in the aggregate. A superior court panel affirmed in a divided viewpoint.

But the 7 justices in the Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Worthington and reversed the lower courts’ ruling on March 26. In an opinion written by Justice Thomas G. Saylor, the higher court explained that “the issue presented considerations regardless of whether Appellant is a statutory employer per the Workers’ Compensation Act and, as such, enjoys immunity from civil liability for injuries sustained by Appellee Earl Patton.”

(Given that the case of McDonald v. Levinson Steel Co. in 1930, Pennsylvania courts have normally utilised a multi-part criteria for common contractors to meet to produce a statutory employer connection, including: “An employer who is under contract with an owner or one in the place of an owner premises occupied by or under the handle of such employer a subcontract created by this kind of employer component of the employer’s typical enterprise entrusted to this kind of subcontractor and an employee of such subcontractor.”)

But, in Patton vs. Worthington Associates Inc., the trial court jury was asked to decide regardless of whether Patton was an independent contractor or an worker with respect to Worthington, in accordance to the court documents.

Supreme Court’s Justice Saylor in wrote, “Worthington is proper that the trial and intermediate courts inappropriately layered widespread-law concepts onto a distinctive statutory regime.”

The situation is Patton vs. Worthington Associates, Inc., No. 32 MAP 2013, The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Middle District, March 26, 2014.

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