Comp immunity derails contractor's contribution claim against employer
Case name: Holbrook, Individually and as Executrix v. Woodham, et al., No. 3:05-304 (W.D. Pa. 02/13/09).
The U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania granted an employer's motion for reconsideration regarding its immunity from tort contribution claims.
What it means:
A waiver of immunity under the Workers' Compensation Act by an employer does not restore normal Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act actions to other subcontractors who were not parties to the waiver.
Summary: An electrician was injured on an airport construction project and eventually died of his injuries. His widow sued several contractors on the project. Two of the contractors sued the electrician's employer, alleging that its negligence was a contributing factor in the employee's death. The contractors argued that the employer's contract with the airport authority, naming the project engineer as the intended beneficiary, waived its statutory immunity from contribution claims.
The employer contended that it waived its immunity only as to the engineer. The District Court agreed with the employer.
In contribution claims, the duty of the employer to the third party is derivative from the employer's joint liability to the employee. Because the WCA eliminated that liability, the court said, the contractors' contribution claims against the employer could not continue.
The court noted that the employer's waiver only named the project engineer as a beneficiary.
March 30, 2009
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