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Exceptions to Statutory Immunity for Injured Pennsylvania Workers

Each day, workers suffer from workplace injuries and occupational diseases. The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act is a state law that protects individuals who have suffered workplace injuries.  To be entitled to benefits, an injured worker must be an employee, which means they must be under the control and direction of the employer.

Often, injured individuals ask if they can bring a lawsuit against an employer or co-employee if that person’s negligence caused the injury. However, the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act is an exclusive remedy. This means employers are immune from negligence lawsuits brought by employees or their families.  There are limited exceptions, discussed below.

“Personal Animus” Exception

Intentional injuries that are motivated by purely personal reasons unrelated to the employment environment are an exception to the rule that an employer cannot be sued for negligence. This intentional injury must be more than simple recklessness or an intentional violation of safety standards.  Sometimes called the”personal animus” exception, this exception is set forth in Section 301(c)(1), 77 P.S. section 411 of the Act.  A well-known case involving an exception to the general rule that workers’ compensation is an exclusive remedy is the case of Martin v. Lancaster Battery Co., Inc., 530 Pa. 11, 606 A.2d 444 (1992).

Another exception to statutory immunity exists for an employer that fails to maintain the required insurance coverage under the Workers’ Compensation Act, which is not entitled to the immunity provision of the Act. In other words, an uninsured employer can be sued by an injured employee.

If the employee has an occupational disease not covered by the Act, they may bring a negligence claim against the responsible entity, even if it is the employer.

Injuries an employee suffers while not in the scope of employment are an exception to the Act. An example would be an employee who works for a trucking company and is injured on his day off. If a truck owned by his employer collides with the employee’s personal car, the employee was not in the scope of his employment at the time he sustained the injuries.  This employee would be able to bring a lawsuit against the employer for negligence if it directly caused his injuries.

Claims Against Third Parties

Injured workers can bring a lawsuit against other individuals or companies for negligence that caused an injury or occupational disease.  These third parties are not shielded from lawsuits in the way that employers and co-workers are.  For example, a lawsuit against a manufacturer or distributor of unsafe machinery is not barred by workers’ compensation.  A manufacturer of unguarded saws may be liable for the resulting injuries, even if those injuries occurred during the scope and in the course of the worker’s employment. Manufacturers and distributors of unsafe industrial equipment, such as unsafe scaffolding or ladders that are defective, may also be held liable.

At Needle Law, our workers’ compensation attorneys help injured workers in Pennsylvania.  We can help you navigate the claims process and guide you in making decisions about your case. We provide a free consultation and can be reached by calling 570-344-1266 or contacting us online.

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