The opinion of the court was delivered by: HERMAN
Plaintiff, Dean Robert Schaeffer, initiated this action on July 14, 1980 when he filed a complaint claiming that Defendant was liable for Plaintiff's injuries, which were caused by a printing press manufactured by Defendant, Didde-Glaser, Inc. On October 14, 1980, Didde-Glaser filed a third-party complaint in which it sought to bring Schaeffer's employer, Eagle Graphics, Inc., into this action as a third-party defendant. Didde-Glaser specifically limited the purpose of Eagle's joinder to enabling the jury to determine the respective percentage shares of the negligence of Plaintiff, Didde-Glaser, and Eagle, thereby potentially reducing Didde-Glaser's liability.
Plaintiff was employed by Eagle on July 18, 1978 when he was working with a Tandemer Roll-Fed Offset Press designed and manufactured by Didde-Glaser. On that date, Plaintiff was attempting to extricate a piece of paper that had become jammed in the machine. In the course of that task, Plaintiff's fingers were pulled into the press itself, resulting in certain damages to Plaintiff.
Eagle claims, in its motion and brief, that its joinder is totally barred by the immunity granted to an employer by amended section 303 of the Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act.
A. The Statutory Framework
In 1974, the Pennsylvania General Assembly amended the Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act to provide, in pertinent part:
(b) In the event injury or death to an employe is caused by a third party, then such employe, his legal representative, husband or wife, parents, dependents, next of kin, and anyone otherwise entitled to receive damages by reason thereof, may bring their action at law against such third party, but the employer, his insurance carrier, their servants and agents, employes, representatives acting on their behalf or at their request shall not be liable to a third party for damages, contribution, or indemnity in any action at law, or otherwise, unless liability for such damages, contribution or indemnity shall be expressly provided for in a written contract entered into by the party alleged to be liable prior to the date of the occurrence which gave rise to the action.
Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act, Act of June 2, 1915, P.L. 736, as amended by Act of December 5, 1974, P.L. 782, 77 P.S. § 481(b) (hereafter referred to as "section 303").
Section 303 augmented the law in Pennsylvania that limited an employee's rights against his employer to recovery under the Act and forfeited the employee's common-law rights against his employer for injuries sustained while in the course of employment. Hinton v. Waste Techniques Corporation, 243 Pa.Super. 189, 195, 364 A.2d 724 (1976).
Eagle urges upon us an interpretation of section 303 that would immunize employers from being joined for any purpose in an action brought by an employee for injuries suffered while on the job. The language of the section, however, does not support such an absolute immunity from joinder. An axiom of statutory construction is that the clear and unambiguous language of a statute controls its meaning. See 1 Pa.C.S.A. § 1921(b); Hellertown Manufacturing Company v. Commonwealth, 480 Pa. 358, 365, 390 A.2d 732 (1978). The relevant language of section 303 is clear: "(T)he employer ... shall not be liable to a third party for damages, contribution, or indemnity ...."
Didde-Glaser seeks no damages, contribution, or indemnity from Eagle. Didde-Glaser wishes only to allow the jury to apportion the percentage of negligence among all of the potentially culpable parties. Eagle stands to suffer no adverse judgments against it. Didde-Glaser bases its request on its intention to establish its legal percentage of responsibility under the Pennsylvania Comparative Negligence Act, Act of ...