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The Statutory Employee Defense in Pennsylvania Comp Claims

Posted On Behalf of Schmidt Kramer Injury Lawyers on May 26, 2013 in Workers' Compensation

For decades, the workers’ compensation law in Pennsylvania has had a significant loophole: the statutory employee defense. But a change in legal precedents last year has upended this area of the law. Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorneys (and their clients) are still grappling with the consequences.

Construction site accidents and third-party liability

As you already know, workers’ compensation rules forbid any lawsuits against your own employer or coworkers. However, lawsuits against contractors working for other companies can be considered, if the contractor’s irresponsible behavior while sharing a workplace with you ends up hurting you. Such third-party lawsuits bypass Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation rules against lawsuits because your claim is against someone not working for your boss.

But workers’ compensation laws are different in every state. One rule that Pennsylvania adopted is that a general contractor at a construction sitea company hired to supervise the work of other subcontractors—is immune to lawsuits for personal injury, just as if the general contractor were your own employer. But it’s important to remember that many of these subcontractors are really one-person businesses that also operate outside workers’ compensation law. If one of these owner-operator subcontractors is hurt on a construction site because of someone else’s negligence, he may have nowhere to turn to get coverage for his injuries.

The Patton rule

That is precisely the issue that arose before the Pennsylvania Superior Court in a 2012 appeal. In the case, Patton v. Worthington Associates, the plaintiff was a drywall installer and subcontractor who had no clear option for recovery after being injured on a construction site. However, the original trial court allowed the jury to decide whether Mr. Patton was functioning as an employee or as a contractor to Worthington Associates, the general contractor. The jury’s decision let to an award of $1.2 million for Mr. Patton and his wife.

Worthington Associates appealed from the decision. Late last year, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the trial judge’s decision to let the jury determine Patton’s employment status, a significant departure from usual practice. This now becomes the settled precedent for workers’ compensation cases in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, until some future time when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules on a similar case.

The implications for your workplace injury case

This decision corrects a long-standing injustice in the legal system. For decades, Pennsylvania general contractors could reliably expect that lawsuits demanding workers’ compensation benefits would be dismissed. That’s no longer true.

It is now even more important for workers injured at a Pennsylvania construction siteor anywhere multiple contractors are involvedto get timely advice from a Harrisburg workers’ compensation lawyer from Schmidt Kramer. If you have been a victim of a workplace injury, you should know that your legal options may have expanded, but you can capitalize on recent changes in the law only if your attorney is prepared to conduct a thorough investigation into your case. Call us at 717-888-8888 or 888-476-0807 today to schedule a free case review. Our workplace injury attorneys are prepared to work aggressively to get you the broadest recovery available under the law.