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Burrell v. Streamlight, Inc.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

November 7, 2019


          Appeal from the Order Entered February 19, 2019 In the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County Civil Division at No(s): No. 2016-30144

          BEFORE: BENDER, P.J.E., DUBOW, J., and COLINS, J. [*]


          COLINS, J.

         This is an appeal from an order granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a work-place personal injury action on the grounds that the action was barred by the exclusive remedy provision of Section 303(a) of the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA), 77 P.S. § 481(a). For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         Bruce Burrell (Plaintiff) was injured on the premises of Streamlight, Inc. (Defendant) on January 29, 2015 when he fell during his work shift while disposing of trash in the trash compactor at Defendant's facility. Complaint ¶¶9, 13-14; Burrell Dep. at 47-53, 66-67, 82-83. Plaintiff was a temporary worker hired by Aerotek, Inc. (Aerotek), a recruiting agency, and was placed by Aerotek to work for Defendant as a temporary worker at Defendant's facility. Complaint ¶¶4-6; Burrell Dep. at 26-32. Plaintiff's injury occurred in the course and scope of his employment and he has received workers' compensation benefits for his injury. Plaintiff's Answers to Defendant's Interrogatories Nos. 7, 29.

         On December 27, 2016, Plaintiff filed a negligence action against Defendant alleging that his injuries were caused by a dangerous condition of Defendant's facility. Defendant in its answer to the complaint pleaded as an affirmative defense that it was immune from suit under the WCA because Plaintiff was acting as Defendant's employee or borrowed servant at the time of the accident. Answer and New Matter ¶¶27-28. On November 28, 2018, following the completion of discovery, Defendant moved for summary judgment on two grounds, 1) that it was immune from tort liability under the WCA and 2) that Plaintiff could not prove negligence. The trial court granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment on the ground that Defendant was Plaintiff's employer under the borrowed employee doctrine and was therefore immune under the WCA. This timely appeal followed.

         Plaintiff presents one issue for our review:

Did the Trial Court improperly grant Summary Judgment where genuine issues of material fact existed as to the nature of the relationship between the Appellant's actual employer and the Appellee, rendering the Appellee ineligible to assert Immunity under the Pennsylvania Workmen's Compensation Act?

         Appellant's Brief at 6. Our standard of review of the trial court's grant of summary judgment is de novo and the scope of review is plenary. American Southern Insurance Co. v. Halbert, 203 A.3d 223, 226 (Pa. Super. 2019).

         Section 303(a) of the WCA provides in relevant part:

The liability of an employer under [the WCA] shall be exclusive and in place of any and all other liability to such employes [sic], his legal representative, husband or wife, parents, dependents, next of kin or anyone otherwise entitled to damages in any action at law or otherwise on account of any injury or death . . . .

77 P.S. § 481(a). Except in limited circumstances not present here, an employer is therefore immune from tort liability for injuries suffered by its employees that are compensable under the WCA. Soto v. Nabisco, Inc., 32 A.3d 787, 790-91 (Pa. Super. 2011); O'Donnell v. R.M. Shoemaker & Co., 816 A.2d 1159, 1162 (Pa. Super. 2003).

         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. JFC Temps, Inc. v. WCAB (Lindsay), 680 A.2d 862, 864 (Pa. 1996); Gardner v. MIA Products Co., 189 A.3d 441, 444 (Pa. Super. 2018); Mullins v. Sun Co., 763 A.2d 398, 400 (Pa. Super. 2000); Wilkinson v. K-Mart, 603 A.2d 659, 661 (Pa. Super. 1992). The test for whether a company is the worker's employer under the borrowed employee doctrine is well established:

The test for determining whether a servant furnished by one person to another becomes the employee of the person to whom he is loaned is whether he passes under the latter's right of control with regard not only to the work to be done but also to the manner of performing it. The entity possessing the right to control the manner of the performance of the servant's work is the employer, irrespective of whether the control is actually exercised. Other factors which may be relevant include the right to select and discharge the employee and the skill or expertise required for the performance of the work. The payment of wages may be ...

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