Accidents On The Job – Who Really Is The Employer And Why Does It Matter?
Whether a truck driver, construction worker, or in the office, getting hurt on the job raises a number of questions about everything from paying for medical treatment to making sure that weekly paycheck continues to come. Most businesses have workers’ compensation coverage – insurance that will pay for the medical bills and wages of an employee hurt at work. But what if you were hurt by the negligence of someone who wasn’t your employer? Or what if you are only a “temp”, placed at a job by another company? The relationship between all the people involved can dictate not only who covers your bills, but whether you can recover other kinds of damages caused by those injuries.
The basic premise under Pennsylvania law is that if you are hurt on the job through the negligence of a co-employee or even simply just an accident, workers’ compensation insurance coverage will take care of your medical bills and 2/3 of your average weekly wage while you recover. However, what you don’t get is compensation those injuries have on you personally – most commonly referred to as “pain and suffering” or non-economic damages.
Take the example of truck driver injured when his vehicle is rear ended by another car. The truck driver can recover for pain and suffering against the other car who caused the accident as well as through workers’ compensation. However, if the truck driver recovers money for lost wages and medical bills against the car that caused the accident, the workers’ compensation insurance company has the right to get that money back out of the settlement – the legal term being subrogation. Simply, the law won’t allow you to get the same types of damages from two different sources and it is important to have legal representation to understand exactly who is entitled to what type of subrogation.
However, in today’s economy, more and more people aren’t employees of the business where they work, but placed by agencies or work as independent contractors. The question of who covers workplace injuries in those situations becomes much more difficult to determine. Pennsylvania law uses the “borrow-servant doctrine” that lays out a framework to answer who is responsible. The law essentially states that if an entity directs and controls the manner of your work, then that entity is technically an employer and protected by the law from having to pay for pain and suffering damages. These cases, though, are very fact specific.
Imagine the person hired to be a janitor in a manufacturing business through a temp agency, hurt when another employee leaves the bathroom water running and causes him to fall. If the temp agency has no role in anything other than placing the person in the job, while the manufacturing business tells the person when to arrive, what to do, and how to do it, the janitor will likely be limited to recovery through workers’ compensation benefits. But if the janitor’s hours, work to be done and method of doing the work is dictated by the temp agency, then the janitor may have a separate and distinct cause of action against the manufacturing company for the negligence of its employee. In the latter situation, unlike the limitations of workers’ compensation benefits, the janitor’s cause of action against the manufacturing business allows him to assert those non-economic damages for pain and suffering.
The important issue to remember is that no two cases are alike, and only through investigation can the facts be developed to determine who is responsible and for what kinds of damages. Aside just from how the accident took place, Pennsylvania courts also look to issues such as who pays the salary, contracts between the parties involved and who maintains the workers compensation insurance plan to resolve the ultimate issues in each case.
As a result, if injured on the job simply relying upon workers compensation benefits isn’t always the only legal remedy. It is important to have your case reviewed and the right questions asked to make sure your claim is being prosecuted against all proper parties and for all the damages you are legally entitled to under the law.
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