Special employment relationship grounds flight attendant's personal injury suit
Case name: Roberts v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., No. 07-cv-12154-DPW (D. Mass. 12/04/08).
Ruling: The U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts granted summary judgment to Delta Air Lines in a personal injury suit brought by a former flight attendant. Although the flight attendant worked for a wholly-owned Delta subsidiary when she was injured, the court found that she was a "loaned servant." As a result, workers' compensation provided the sole remedy for her injuries.
What it means: Under Massachusetts law, both the general employer and special employer are entitled to immunity from personal liability when the injury occurs in the scope of employment. An entity becomes a special employer when it exercises the right to control and direct a worker's job performance.
A flight attendant suffered severe back injuries when the plane she was working in came to an abrupt stop on the runway. She claimed that as a result of the accident, she had to undergo multiple spinal surgeries and continued to receive treatment for her back pain. She entered into a lump-sum settlement agreement "for redeeming liability" of her workers' compensation claim. The agreement listed her employer as "Song Airlines/Delta (In Dispute)." She also sued Delta for her personal injuries, arguing that Song Airlines, not Delta, was her employer. The District Court granted summary judgment for Delta, finding that Delta enjoyed tort immunity provided by the exclusivity provisions of the Massachusetts Workers' Compensation Act because the claimant was a "loaned servant" when her injuries occurred.
The claimant argued that although she had been a Delta employee, she severed her employment relationship with Delta when she went to work for Song Airlines. The court agreed that the two airlines were distinct entities, but concluded that Delta was the claimant's "special employer" because it exercised the right to control and direct her job performance.
In support of its finding that a special employment relationship existed, the court cited several factors. Delta determined the "broad employment policies" for Song's personnel. Delta's supervisors also directly assigned Song flight attendants to particular flights and evaluated their job performance. Further, after the claimant's injury occurred, she used the direct line to Delta Operations in Boston to ask whether she could leave the flight.
January 26, 2009
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