Thursday, February 13, 2020

Borrowed Servant Doctrine Applied to Support Entry of Summary Judgment in Favor of Employer


In the case of Solomon v. FedEx Supply Chain, Inc., No. 1:17-CV-02385 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 14, 2020 Rambo, J), Judge Sylvia H. Rambo addressed the current status of Pennsylvania law on the borrowed servant doctrine.

According to the Opinion, this personal injury case arose out of a forklift accident that occurred within the scope of the Plaintiff’s employment.

At the time of the accident, the Plaintiff was a contractual employee for an employment agency and was assigned to work as a forklift operator and order picker at a FedEx Distribution Center.

Under the contract between the temporary employment agency and FedEx, FedEx was responsible for, among other things, training, supervising, and instructing staffing personnel, as well as for maintaining a safe workplace. The contract also provided that FedEx retained direction and control over the staffing personnel as it determined in its sole discretion to be appropriate, including the right to accept, reject, and remove staffing personnel.

Under the agreement, the employment agency was solely responsible for selecting, hiring, disciplining, reviewing, evaluating, and terminating personnel, as well as for paying the worker’s wages and maintaining the benefits.

The Plaintiff was injured on his first day of work at the FedEx Distribution Center after undergoing training in the morning and being assigned to shadow another FedEx employee. During that first day of work, the Plaintiff was operating a standup forklift when he collided with a parked forklift and allegedly sustained injuries as a result.

The Plaintiff sued FedEx following this incident.

FedEx eventually filed a Motion for Summary Judgment requesting the dismissal of the Plaintiff’s claims for negligence on the basis that FedEx was Solomon’s statutory employer and was therefore immune from suit under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.

The court noted that, generally speaking, employees who are injured at work are limited to compensation available to them under the Workers’ Compensation Act and cannot separately sue their employers for personal injury.

The court noted that this immunity provided by the Workers’ Compensation Act extends from the direct employer as well as to other entities that may have “borrowed” the employee and if the latter exercises sufficient control over the employee.

Under the borrowed servant doctrine, the “crucial test” in determining whether a worker furnished by one person to another becomes the employee of the person to whom he is loaned is whether the worker passes under the latter’s right of control with regards not only to the work to be done but also to the manner of performing it.

A borrowed employee in this regard is considered to a statutory employee and the borrowing employer is considered to a statutory employer.

The court noted that, if there are issues of fact on the issue of whether a defendant is a statutory employer, the question is usually one to be decided by a jury.   However, where the material facts are not in dispute the question can be properly the subject of a Motion for Summary Judgment.

After applying the law to the facts before her, Judge Rambo concluded that FedEx was the Plaintiff’s statutory employer pursuant to the borrowed servant doctrine. Accordingly, the court found that FedEx was entitled to immunity under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act to any personal injury suit. As such, FedEx’s Motion for Summary Judgment was granted.

Anyone wishing to review this decision may click this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney Richard B. Wickersham, Jr., of the Philadelphia office of Post & Schell, P.C. for bringing this case to my attention.

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