In a case which has attracted a great deal of attention from construction and insurance industry groups, and prodded the filing of numerous amici curiae briefs, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Patton v. Worthington Associates, overturned a $1.5 million jury verdict and ruled in favor of the defendant general contractor based on the “statutory employer” immunity doctrine under Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Act (the “Act”).
Worthington Associates, Inc. was engaged as general contractor on a construction project. Worthington, in turn, hired Patton Construction, Inc., a corporation wholly-owned by Earl Patton, as a subcontractor. Mr. Patton suffered significant back injuries when he fell at the project site. He and his wife filed a negligence suit against Worthington alleging failure to maintain a safe jobsite. Worthington moved for summary judgment, arguing that, pursuant to Section 302 of the Act, it was secondarily liable for the payment of workers compensation benefits to its subcontractors’ workers and, as such, entitled to immunity from tort claims (as the so-called “statutory employer”) even if it did not have to make such payments. The motion was denied and the matter was tried before a jury, which found that Patton was an independent contractor of Worthington and awarded the Pattons $1.5 million. This decision was affirmed by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.