Workers Compensation

July 23rd, 2019 by Rieders Travis in Workers' Compensation

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION-IMMUNITY-EXCLUSIVITY PROVISION OF 303(a)

Burrell v. Streamlight, Inc., 2019 Pa. Super. LEXIS 1110 (November 7, 2019) Colins, J.  In this case, summary judgment was granted for defendant-employer and an appeal taken.  Under the borrowed employee doctrine, where 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.  A company that is an injured worker’s employer under the borrowed employee doctrine is liable for payment of workers’ compensation benefits for his work injuries.  If there is conflicting evidence with respect to the supervision or control of the work, summary judgment cannot be granted.  In this case, it was a contract showing that the temporary placement company hired and paid the plaintiff, but that defendant worksite had the right to control plaintiff’s work and the manner in which it was performed.  There was no issue of dispute, and the case was properly thrown out.

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION-SUBROGATION-COOPERATION OF EMPLOYEE

Hartford Ins. Group v. Kamara, 2018 Pa. LEXIS 6033 (Pa. S.Ct. November 21, 2018) Baer, J.  This appeal presents the issue of whether a workers’ compensation insurance carrier may bring a third-party action against an alleged tortfeasor on behalf of an injured employee to recoup the amount paid in workers’ compensation benefits where the employee did not independently sue the tortfeasor, did not join in the insurer’s action, and did not assign her cause of action to the insurer. Reaffirming the well-settled proposition that the right of action against the tortfeasor remains in the injured employee, we hold that, unless the injured employee assigns her cause of action or voluntarily joins the litigation as a party plaintiff, the insurer may not enforce its statutory right to subrogation by filing an action directly against the tortfeasor. Accordingly, we vacate the judgment of the Superior Court and reinstate the order of the trial court, which sustained the preliminary objections filed by the tortfeasor and dismissed the insurer’s complaint with prejudice.

Under these circumstances, we find it apparent that sanctioning a workers’ compensation carrier to pursue litigation of the injured employee merely by captioning the complaint as “on behalf of” the employee and including a bald assertion seeking any recovery due the employee, contravenes the very jurisprudence establishing that it is the injured worker who retains the cause of action against the tortfeasor. It is for these reasons that we reiterate our holding in Domtar Paper and clarify that absent the injured employee’s assignment or voluntary participation as a party plaintiff, the insurer may not enforce its Section 319 right to subrogation by filing an action directly against the tortfeasor.

SUBROGATION-NEW JERSEY WORKERS’ COMPENSATION-OTHER CAR WORKERS’ COMPENSATION-SUBROGATION-NEW JERSEY

Trunov v. Liberty Mut. Ins., 2018 Pa. Ct. of Common Pleas Lackawanna Co. LEXIS 1734 (August 31, 2018) Munley, J.- Pennsylvania law, specifically 77 P.S. § 671, applies to this matter and under 77 P.S. § 671, Liberty is entitled to a subrogation interest for repayment of New Jersey workers’ compensation benefits from any monies paid to Trunov from third party tortfeasors in the settlement of the Pennsylvania civil action. Liberty is not entitled to a workers’ compensation subrogation interest in any monies paid to Trunov from his employer USTP in the Pennsylvania civil action. 

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION-TEMP AGENCY

Gardner v. MIA Products Company, 2018 Pa. Super. LEXIS 551 (May 30, 2018) Ott, J.  Eric Gardner appeals from the order entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, on February 27, 2017, granting summary judgment in favor of MIA Products Company and J & J Snack Foods Corp./MIA (MIA). The trial court determined that Gardner was a borrowed servant of MIA and, therefore, not entitled to file a tort claim against the company for injuries allegedly suffered while working there. In this timely appeal, Gardner raises two claims. First, he argues the trial should not have looked beyond the fact that he was not a statutory employee of MIA. Second, Gardner argues the trial court erred in concluding he was borrowed employee of MIA.2 After a thorough review of the submissions by the parties, relevant law, and the certified record, we agree that there are open issues of fact that prevent the proper grant of summary judgment. Accordingly, we reverse the order granting summary judgment and remand for trial.

While there was evidence to support the trial court’s conclusion that MIA was afforded the right to control the DelVal workers, we do not believe that evidence is so compelling as to resolve all questions of material fact regarding the issue of worker control. Therefore, the evidence as currently constituted cannot justify the grant of summary judgment in favor of MIA. Gardner testified that it was a DelVal supervisor who evaluated them and placed them within MIA. The DelVal supervisors were present when MIA employees demonstrated how the work was performed. While MIA supervisors confirmed the employee demonstration accurately depicted how the work was to be performed, it is not clear whether Gardner and his DelVal compatriots were under the control of the MIA supervisors at the time. We cannot say that if the MIA supervisors were merely confirming what had been learned under DelVal supervision that, as a matter of law, control of Gardner had shifted to MIA. 

The evidence presented may well allow for a finding in MIA’s favor, but it does not necessarily compel that outcome. As such, the trial court abused its discretion in granting summary judgment in favor of MIA.

Judgment reversed. This matter is remanded for trial. Jurisdiction relinquished.

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION-SUBROGATION-DISABILITY BENEFITS AND MEDICAL EXPENSES

Whitmoyer v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board, 2018 Pa. LEXIS 2995 (June 19, 2018) Donohue, J.  The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”) makes an employer liable for paying the disability benefits and medical expenses of an employee who sustains an injury in the course of his or her employment. See 77 P.S. §§ 431 (disability), 531 (medical). This liability attaches without regard to the employer’s negligence. See id; see also Heckendorn v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 465 A.2d 609, 613 (Pa. 1983). Under section 319 of the WCA, however, employers (or their insurance carriers) are “subrogated to the right of the employe” and therefore entitled to reimbursement for certain expenses where a third party caused the employee’s injury. 77 P.S. § 671. The instant matter addresses a specific question about the scope of this reimbursement. Section 319 of the WCA provides, in pertinent part: 

Any recovery against such third person in excess of the compensation theretofore paid by the employer shall be paid forthwith to the employe, his personal representative, his estate or his dependents, and shall be treated as an advance payment by the employer on account of any future instalments of compensation. 

We granted allowance of appeal to determine whether the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding that the term “instalments of compensation” in section 319 encompasses both disability benefits and payment of medical expenses.

In sum, after satisfying the employer’s accrued subrogation lien, which encompasses “compensation” payments made by the employer toward both disability benefits and medical expenses prior to the third-party settlement, the General Assembly intended the excess recovery to be paid to the injured employee and to be treated as an advance payment only on account of any future disability benefits. See 77 P.S. 671. The fact that, in this case, Whitmoyer was not owed any outstanding disability benefits is wholly irrelevant to our analysis.

As to the other stated purposes of section 319, we note that the provision’s protection of “innocent” employers has its limits. The WCA’s default is to hold an employer liable for an employee’s work-related injury. See 77 P.S. §§ 431 (disability benefits), 531 (medical expenses). Indeed, in the instant matter, MCM concedes that even if we found in its favor, its liability would be circumscribed “only to the extent of [Whitmoyer’s] third party recovery.” Once that amount is exceeded, MCM (or Selective) would again be required to pay Whitmoyer’s medical expenses in full, “potentially for the lifetime of the injured worker[].” Id. Finally, it bears emphasizing that the conclusion we reach today is wholly consistent with the remedial nature of the WCA, which should be interpreted for the benefit of the worker and liberally construed to effectuate its humanitarian objectives. Peterson v. W.C.A.B (PRN Nursing Agency), 597 A.2d 1116 (Pa. 1991); 1 Pa.C.S. § 1928. 

The decision of the Commonwealth Court is reversed. 

Chief Justice Saylor and Justices Baer, Todd, Dougherty, Wecht and Mundy join the opinion.

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