In the current labor market, many employees are placed in employment through temporary agencies. There are many agencies in the local market including Labor Ready, Inc., and Manpower. If an employee is injured on the job that they have been placed into by a temporary agency, a question arises as to who is their employer. A recent Pennsylvania Superior Court decision was issued explaining this relationship.
In Black v. Labor Ready, Inc., et al., the Pennsylvania Superior Court made a determination that a temporary agency was the employer of an injured worker who had been placed to work at Williamsport Steel Container, Inc., where she was injured. The Plaintiff was injured when she was working on a punch press machine in the factory of Williamsport Steel Container, Inc., when the machine descended on the Plaintiff’s hand, amputating it. The Plaintiff filed a workers’ compensation claim against both Labor Ready, Inc., the temporary agency, and also Williamsport Steel Container, Inc.. The matter was assigned to a workers’ compensation judge for disposition. The Defendant, Williamsport Steel Container, Inc., filed an answer to the Plaintiff’s petition alleging that it was not her employer and, rather, that Labor Ready, Inc., was the Plaintiff’s employer. The workers’ compensation judge decided that the temporary agency was, in fact, the Plaintiff’s employer. Subsequently, the Plaintiff filed a civil law suit against Williamsport Steel Container, Inc., alleging that she was injured due to their negligence in the maintenance of the punch press machine. In response to that complaint, Williamsport Steel Container, Inc., changed its position and filed a Motion for Summary Judgment attempting to dismiss the Plaintiff’s claim. In the Motion, Williamsport Steel argued that it was the Plaintiff’s employer and as such she was barred from pursuing any civil law suit against it, because her exclusive remedy was the Workers’ Compensation Act.
The workers’ compensation law and the law of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania clearly states that:
Where an employee’s injury is compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act, the compensation provided by the statute is the employee’s exclusive remedy against his or her employer. Thus, an injured employee cannot maintain a tort action against his or her employer if the injury is compensable under the provisions of the Act.
Albright v. Fagan, 671 A.2d 760 762 (Pa. Super. 1996).
The Pennsylvania Superior Court then looked into the apparent inconsistent positions that Williamsport Steel had taken in this particular situation. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has specifically held that as a general rule, a party to an action is estopped from assuming a position inconsistent with his or her assertion in a previous action, if his or her contention was successfully maintained. In re, adoption of S.A.J., 575 Pa. 624, 631, 838 A.2d 616, 620 (2003).
In Black, the Superior Court specifically held that an employer, in this matter Williamsport Steel Container, Inc., could not maintain an inconsistent position. Thus, its previous answer in the workers’ compensation claim, specifically denying the Plaintiff was an employee, barred Williamsport Steel from raising the contention that she was their employee in the civil lawsuit. As such, the Plaintiff was permitted to pursue a civil action against the business where she was placed by the temporary agency. This decision is important, as it potentially expands the rights of injured parties to seek redress for their injuries, and more clearly define the employer-employee relationship in situations involving temporary agencies.
Abrahamsen, Conaboy & Abrahamsen, P.C., a Scranton, Pennsylvania law firm, offers free consultations for personal injury, auto accidents, products liability, workers’ compensation, social security claims and social security disability appeals. DON’T GO IT ALONE! Call or e-mail one of our experienced attorneys to learn about your rights.