Pennsylvania Superior Court Case Discusses Relief Available to Independent Contractors
Many Pennsylvania employees work directly for an employer, performing tasks at the direction of the employer. Occasionally, another layer is added when a business hires a specialized company to perform a specific task. The employees for the business are then considered independent contractors. When employees working for an employer are injured, they may be able to recover workers’ compensation benefits. But what happens when an independent contractor is injured?
A recent Pennsylvania Superior Court case, Nertavich v. PPL Electric Utilities, involves an independent contractor who sought relief by filing a personal injury claim against the hiring company. In this case, the catastrophically injured worker worked for a company that was hired to paint utility poles. The electric company contracted the injured worker’s employer to paint the poles and provided specific safety instructions on how to avoid injury. While painting the pole, the injured worker fell straight down 40 feet, dislocating his ankles, bursting several lumbar spine discs, and fracturing his feet, knee, right femur, and right hip. The worker was provided two lanyards, a pole belt, and a body harness, but he only used one of the lanyards and the pole belt to attach himself to the ladder.
The case went to a jury trial, where the jury found the electric company 51% negligent and the injured worker 49% negligent. The jury awarded the injured worker 4.6 million dollars, which was reduced by the percentage of the injured worker’s negligence to approximately 2.5 million. The electric company appealed, arguing that a finding that it was liable for the worker’s injury was prevented by Pennsylvania law. In its analysis, the Superior Court reviewed the law outlining relief that is and is not available for an injured independent contractor.
The Superior Court reviewed the case precedent in Beil v. Telesis Const. Inc., which established that a “landowner who engages an independent contractor is not responsible for the acts or omissions of such independent contractor or his employees.” The Superior Court also reiterated the long-held principle that a landowner cannot be held vicariously liable for negligence by an independent contractor or its employees because he or she no longer retains control or authority over the work. Exceptions are made for this rule when the entity that hired the independent contractor retains control over any part of the work, thus retaining an obligation to provide a safe environment and use reasonable care.
The Superior Court then looked at methods of determining whether the hiring entity retained control over the work. The case law in Beil stated that the general right to inspect progress, receive reports, or make suggestions or recommendations does not mean that the owner retained control over the work and project. The control needs to include a right of supervision that prevents the independent contractor from performing the task in his or her own way. The Superior Court ruled that facts of the present case were similar to the employment structure in Beil, which ultimately did not find the employer to have control over the work and shielded it from liability. The Superior Court did not believe the electric company retained control in any way and overturned the jury verdict.
If you have been injured while performing work as an independent contractor, you need knowledgeable Pennsylvania personal injury attorneys who can help you choose the best avenue of legal relief. In an independent contractor structure, it can be tricky to determine which party was negligent and responsible for your injuries. The attorneys at Needle Law Firm have the experience you need to fully litigate and negotiate your personal injury claim. For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office today at (570) 344-1266.