In Pennsylvania, an employer is afforded great protection against a lawsuit for injuries that occur at work by an employee. Employers essentially have immunity from employee lawsuits when injuries occur at work. Workers’ compensation is available to employees who suffer an injury or occupational disease at work. Workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy in Pennsylvania for claims against an employer for work injuries.
There are some exceptions to the immunity of an employer and the exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation. These exceptions are narrowly construed and rarely occur. The first exception is the doctrine of “dual capacity”. In the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision Tatrai v. Presbyterian University Hospital (decided in 1982), the court found that an employee of a hospital, who was injured at work, and then suffered further injury due to alleged negligence of the hospital emergency room staff, was being treated at the hospital as a member of the general public, and therefore was able to pursue a separate claim in tort (negligence lawsuit) despite being an employee of the same hospital.
Secondly, the doctrine of “dual persona” exists to effectively preserve the rights of an injured worker if an employer has a new corporate identity, and it allows an injured worker to sue an employer in tort (third party lawsuit) for a work injury, provided the employer also has a second identity so completely different and unrelated to its status as an employer that the law would recognize the employer as a separate legal entity in this other capacity.
Third, an employer can be sued by an employee involved in a work injury if it can be proven that the employer affirmatively and fraudulently concealed a danger or dangerous exposure to the detriment of the employee. In 1992, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court permitted the tort of fraudulent concealment in Martin v. Lancaster Battery. In that case, an employee was exposed to lead dust and fumes and federal safety regulations required testing on a regular basis of employees to determine the lead content in their blood. The employer willfully and intentionally withheld from the employee results of blood tests, and the employer altered blood tests before disclosing the results to the employee. The employee became ill due to lead toxicity and the court permitted the employee to file a lawsuit against his employer.
Lastly, an employee may bring a separate lawsuit against an employer for conduct that arises out of personal animus. However, the standard is very stringent, and the employee needs to prove that the conduct of the employer was motivated by personal reasons, as opposed to generalized contempt or hatred, and was sufficiently unrelated to the work situation so as not to arise out of the employment relationship. There are several federal appellate court cases discussing this issue.
Workers’ compensation laws allow the employer to essentially escape liability from a separate lawsuit for harm resulting to an employee while at work for the employer. Exceptions to the employer’s immunity are difficult to establish and hard to prove. When an employee is injured at work, the workers’ compensation system was meant to apply. In Pennsylvania, that is not such a bad thing, as the workers’ compensation laws are liberally construed in favor of the injured worker consistent with the humanitarian nature of the Workers’ Compensation act.
If you were hurt at work in Pennsylvania, think first about proceeding with a workers’ compensation claim. The Philadelphia workers compensation attorneys of Pearson Koutcher Law have a combined greater than three decades experience handling the Workers’ Compensation claims of injured workers.
Let us put our decades of experience to work for you, helping you navigate the complexities of the Workers’ Compensation laws.