PA Appellate Division Grapples With Contractor Liability for Employees and Independent Contractors.

In the case of Patton, et al v. Worthington Associates, Inc., Pennsylvania’s appellate division was faced with the defendant’s appeal of an adverse trial verdict.  The case’s relevant facts are as follows.

The Christ Methodist Church hired Worthington to perform construction work.  Worthington subcontracted the work to Patton Construction.  While Patton Construction was performing work, Patton (its principal) fell 14 feet to the ground and suffered injuries that a Bucks County jury valued at more than $1,500,000.  He sued Worthington.  At the close of discovery, Worthington filled a motion for summary judgment and argued that it was the “statutory employer of Patton under the Pennsylvania Worker’s Compensation Act.”  Specifically, Worthington argued that it was entitled to the benefits of §52 of the Act which states: 

“An employer who permits the entry upon premises occupied by him or under his control of a laborer or an assistant hired by an employee or contractor, for the performance upon such premises of a part of the employer’s regular business entrusted to such employee or contractor, shall be liable to such laborer or assistant in the same manner and to the same extent as to his own employee.”

Worthington further argued that Patton was not an independent contractor (which would negate the defense), but rather a statutory employee because: (a) Worthington  was under contract with Patton Construction; (b) the site where the accident occurred was under Worthington’s control; (c) Worthington’s regular business at the accident site was entrusted to Patton Construction; and (d) Patton was a direct employee of Patton Construction.  The  motion was denied and the court allowed the jury to decide if Patton was an independent contractor or a statutory employee.  The jury ruled that he was an independent contractor, the award was given and the appeal resulted.

The Superior Court has now ruled that the trial court was correct to submit the question to the jury as the issue was one of fact and not law.  Yet another hurdle to overcome in Pennsylvania construction accident cases!

For more information about this post, please contact Bob Cosgrove at rcosgrove@wcmlaw.com.