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Pennsylvania Superior Court Holds that General Contractor is Employer and Immune from Tort Liability

Recently, the Pennsylvania Superior Court addressed whether a general contractor is a statutory employer and therefore immune from tort liability under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.

The facts of this case involve a workplace accident. While working, Joseph Tufaro slipped and fell on snow and ice, sustaining a back injury and nerve damage to his leg.  The ice and snow had accumulated at a residential construction site. Mr. Tufaro worked for Kal’s Insulation, Inc., as a laborer and foam technician. Milestone was the general contractor and had subcontracted with Kal’s to install the insulation.

The plaintiffs, Mr. and Mrs. Tufaro, filed a complaint against Milestone, asserting negligence and loss of consortium claims. Milestone filed for summary judgment on the grounds that it was immune from tort liability as a statutory employer of Mr. Tufaro. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, and Mr. and Mrs. Tufaro appealed.

The issue before the court was whether Milestone was in fact Mr. Tufaro’s employer and entitled to immunity from a lawsuit in tort. Mr. and Mrs. Tufaro argue a genuine issue of material fact exists because Milestone was not Mr. Tufaro’s employer, and not immune from tort liability. The Tufaros contend that Milestone employed Kal’s as an independent contractor. Mr. and Mrs. Tufaro also argued that Kal’s provided workers’ compensation insurance to its employees for the jobs that Kal’s worked for Milestone.

Turning to the Workers’ Compensation Act, the court cited the law that general contractors have been deemed “statutory-employers,” relative to workers’ compensation liability. The rationale is that imposing this status on general contractors ensures payment of workers’ compensation benefits. Similar to traditional employers, statutory employers are immune from tort liability regarding work-related injuries.

To determine if a general contractor is a statutory employer, the court relied on a five-factor test, including whether the contractor is under contract with an owner, whether the premises are occupied by or under the control of a contractor, and whether the injured party is an employee of the subcontractor.

Here, the court stated that Milestone was a general contractor regarding the construction of a new home. At the time of Mr. Tufaro’s injury, Milestone occupied and controlled the residence. Milestone had entered into a subcontract with Kal’s to install the insulation in the new home.

The court stated that Milestone was the statutory employer of Mr. Tufaro, as a matter of law. In fact, the relationship between Kal’s and Milestone was a typical contractor/subcontractor relationship. Although Milestone did not make workers’ compensation payments, they remain a statutory employer, as a matter of law.

The court held that the trial court correctly determined that Milestone is the statutory employer and immune from tort liability.

At the Needle Law Firm, we represent injured individuals in workers’ compensation claims as well as personal injury lawsuits.   To better understand your rights and obligations under the law, contact our office for a free consultation by calling 570-344-1266.

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