Bucks County, PA.
A Pennsylvania construction company has agreed to pay $800,000.00 to a union employee to settle a lawsuit filed by the Swartz Culleton law firm. The employee had sustained lower back injuries after he fell down a flight of stairs during a high-rise construction project. The lawsuit alleged that the stairs were unsafe because the construction company, which was the general contractor on the large construction project, did not maintain bilateral hand-rails during the construction phase, and that the stairs were overly congested due to improper coordination of contractors at the site.
In defending the case, the company argued that OSHA did not require bilateral hand-railings and, more importantly, that it was immune from civil suit because of the exclusivity of the Workers’ Compensation Act. Under the Act, if a general contractor hires a subcontractor and that subcontractor employs a worker, that worker cannot sue his employer or the general contractor if he sustains a work injury on the job site. This is something called the statutory employer defense and is an absolute defense. In this case, the plaintiff was employed by a subcontractor of the defendant company.
The worker’s attorney, Brandon Swartz of the Swartz Culleton law firm, explained how the statutory employer defense was overcome: “Using the project contracts and through a forensic investigation of the different contractors’ actual relationships, we were able to show that the contract between the general contractor and the worker’s employer, the subcontractor, was essentially a “sham” designed to create the shield of the statutory employer defense. By putting the legitimacy of that contract in play, the defendant company lost its absolute defense, was forced to the negotiating table, and the case settled.”