Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a very important decision expanding the definition of the term employee under Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Act (“Act”): Six L’s Packing Co., v. WCAB (Williamson), PICS No. 12-1047 (2012).
In this case, a tomato grower hired a trucking company to transport harvested tomatoes between the grower’s warehouse and other delivery points. One of the trucking company’s workers was injured in a truck accident while transporting the grower’s tomatoes. The injured worker sought Workers’ Compensation benefits from the trucking company. However, it turns out the trucking company had no Workers’ Compensation insurance (a violation of the law). The driver then brought a Workers’ Compensation claim against the tomato grower.
The grower fought the claim. It denied owning any of the trucks that were driven by the driver. And, it argued, since the trucking company hired the driver, the grower should have no obligation to make payments under the Workers’ Compensation Act. The grower also argued that the injury occurred on a public highway not on the grower’s property.
The Worker’s Compensation Court rejected the grower’s argument. Instead, the Court ruled that the Act provides coverage in situations where a company contracts to have work performed that is a regular part of the contracting company’s business. In this case, growing, harvesting and delivering tomatoes are regular parts of the grower’s business. So, the Court concluded, the grower was a contractor and the trucking company a sub-contractor. Because the trucking company employed the injured worker – and it lacked insurance – the grower was responsible as the statutory employer and, therefore, obligated to pay Workers’ Compensation benefits.
This decision allows for a greater chance of recovery by injured workers employed by sub-contractors or independent contractors. Many times the employer tries to say the employee (such as the driver in this case) is a sub-contractor. With this decision, the employer’s designation of the worker as an independent contractor or sub-contractor will not necessarily determine whether you are entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits.
If you become involved in a situation where employers are trying to push off the responsibility of payment of Workers’ Compensation benefits on to you or some other employer, contact Marc S. Jacobs at Galfand Berger. As an experienced Workers’ Compensation Attorney in Philadelphia, Mr. Jacobs has been extremely successful representing workers whose position as “employees” have been questioned and who have had to fight for their rightful benefits. Contact him today at [email protected] or call 1-800-222-8792 to discuss your matter.