Pennsylvania: Personal Injury―Summary Judgment in Philadelphia County

10/09/17

On February 19, 2015, plaintiff was working at a renovation project as an electrician employed by an electrical subcontractor. He alleged that while carrying a six-foot ladder through the building’s mechanical room, his ladder struck a nitrogen tank that was not secured and the tank fell onto his left foot. Plaintiff claimed significant injury to his left foot.

Plaintiff filed suit against the owners and our client, the general contractor, in Philadelphia County. We joined the electrical subcontractor and the plumbing subcontractor who owned the subject tank.

Liability was contested by all defendants. Rawle & Henderson LLP filed Summary Judgment on behalf of our client, the general contractor, based upon its statutory employer status. We argued that our client met the necessary requirements to be considered a statutory employer pursuant to the McDonald test based upon the following criteria:

(1) It is under contract with an owner or one in the position of an owner;
(2) The premises in question are occupied by or under the control of such employer;
(3) The employer makes a subcontract;
(4) Part of the employer’s regular business has been entrusted to such subcontractor; and
(5) An employee of the subcontractor is the party bringing the claim.

McDonald, 153 A. at 426. See also Braun v. Target Corp., 2009 PA Super 206, ¶ 31, 983 A.2d 752, 764.

Multiple parties filed opposition to our Summary Judgement motion. The primary argument was that our client served dual roles on the project. Our client was both the construction manager and performed the carpentry work on the site. Our client did not have a separate contract for the carpentry work.

In addition, the opponents argued that our client billed separately for the carpentry work. The opponents further argued that the first requirement of the McDonald test was not met because our client, the general contractor, did not have a contract for the carpentry work with the owner. It was argued that the second requirement was not met because our client did not show control of the site mainly because it was alleged that its employees had moved the tank as part of their carpentry work and the carpenters did not have actual control of the site and did not serve in any supervisory role on the site. It was further argued that the fourth requirement was not met because our client did not have a specific contract with the owner for electrical work.

Rawle & Henderson LLP argued that all parties had agreed in deposition that our client was the general contractor. There was no case law cited that made any exception with regard to the statutory employer status because a general contractor performed dual roles. Rawle & Henderson LLP asserted that the opposition’s argument that dual roles had any effect on our client’s statutory employer status was a red herring meant to sidetrack and confuse the court.

Rawle & Henderson LLP further argued that it was made clear in O’Boyle v. J.C.A. Corp. 538 A.2d 915 (Pa. Super 1988) that the subcontracted work need not mimic verbatim the obligation assumed by the general contractor; rather, a general contractor tasked with completing a construction project may subcontract work in furtherance of this overall goal, even if the task is not mentioned in the general contractor’s obligations. See generally Id at 918.

Therefore, the fact that carpentry and electrical work were not specifically mentioned in the contract were not relevant factors in determining the statutory employer status of the general contractor.

The court did not find the arguments of the opposing parties compelling and concluded that Rawle & Henderson LLP's client was the statutory employer and granted the motion for Summary Judgment dismissing all claims against our client with prejudice.