“Borrowed Employee” Status Remains Question of Fact in Pennsylvania

Recently, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reiterated that the employment status of a “loaned” laborer is a question of fact with respect to the applicability of the workers compensation bar.

In the case of Shamis v. Moon, the plaintiff was the direct employee of a general contractor charged with overseeing the expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.  More specifically, the plaintiff alleged in his complaint that he was “loaned” to a demolition subcontractor working on the project, and sustained severe injuries when an employee of the same ran him over with a dump truck.  In light of his injuries, the plaintiff filed a workers’ compensation claim against the general contractor, and later sued the subcontractor and its employee in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas.

In responding to the plaintiff’s allegations, the subcontractor eventually moved for summary judgment and asserted that it was also the plaintiff’s employer for the purposes of the workers’ compensation bar under the “borrowed employee” doctrine.  To this end, the subcontractor presented evidence from the record indicating that it, not the general contractor, actually supervised the expansion and directed the plaintiff in his duties.  Perhaps surprisingly, the Philadelphia trial court agreed and granted summary judgment on the basis of the workers’ compensation bar.

On appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, the plaintiff argued that the trial court erred as a matter of law when it applied the “borrowed employee” doctrine.  Specifically, the plaintiff argued that Pennsylvania law recognizes the doctrine only when there is sufficient evidence that the employee “passed under the [putative] employer’s right of control with regard to the work to be done and the manner performing it.”  According to the plaintiff, however, the record in Shamis was conflicted in respect of the general contractor’s right of control vis-à-vis the defendant subcontractor.  In particular, the plaintiff noted to the Superior Court that although he took direction from the subcontractor, the general contractor maintained a contractual right and obligation of supervision that called into question his employment status for purposes of the workers’ compensation bar.  In ultimately endorsing the plaintiff’s position, the Superior Court agreed that questions regarding “borrowed employees” are intrinsically fact sensitive and rely heavily on factors that should be considered by a jury.  As a result, the Superior Court reversed and remanded the matter to the court below for further discovery and trial.

Shamis is a reminder that while the “borrowed employee” doctrine may serve as a viable bar to workplace injury claims in Pennsylvania, the defense requires a significant and detailed factual basis in order to succeed.

Thanks to Adam Gomez for his contribution to this post. If you have any questions, please email Paul at pclark@wcmlaw.com.