Thursday, March 6, 2014

Judge Nealon of Lackawanna County Finds No Waiver of Immunity by Employer Through Indemnification Clause

In his recent February 25, 2014 Opinion and Order, Judge Terrence R. Nealon of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas addressed the issue of an employer's waiver of tort immunity by way of an indemnification clause in a contract in the case of Fritz v. Versacold Logistics, LLC, et al., No. 2012 - CV - 700 (Lacka. Co. Feb. 25, 2014 Nealon, J.).

In this premises liability slip and fall personal injury matter, a commercial landowner defendant joined its trucking company contractor as an additional defendant based upon an indemnification clause in their motor carrier transportation contract.

The additional defendant trucking company filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that it was immune from liability on the grounds that the plaintiff was its employee at the time of the subject incident and had received worker's compensation benefits from the additional defendant's worker's compensation carrier.  The additional defendant trucking company also asserted the indemnification clause in the contract did not contain language that was specific enough to avoid the immunity afforded to the trucking company under the Worker's Compensation Act.

The commercial landowner countered the additional defendant's motion for summary judgment with an argument that there were issues of fact as to the identity of the plaintiff's employer, as well as by arguing that the indemnification provision in the parties' contract enabled the landowner to seek contribution or indemnity from the trucking company.

Judge Terrence R. Nealon
Lackawanna County
Judge Nealon granted the additional defendant trucking company's motion for summary judgment after finding that judicial admissions in the landowner's pleadings had established that the plaintiff was indeed an employee of the trucking company. 

The court also reviewed the law on the validity of indemnification clauses and found that the language in the clause at issue in this matter did not satisfy the requirements under the Worker's Compensation Act to allow for a waiver of the immunity afforded by that Act.  More specifically, the contract language of the clause at issue did not expressly refer to tort claims by the additional defendant's employees resulting from the landowner defendant's negligence.

Anyone wishing to review Judge Nealon's Opinion in the Fritz case may click this LINK.

For other decisions by Judge Nealon on the validity of an indemnification clause, click HERE and HERE.

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