Court-Says-Disclaimer-Prevents-Injured-Worker-from-Suing-Employer’s-Client-ImageIf you suffered an on-the-job injury in Pennsylvania, you have two possible sources of compensation: a workers’ compensation claim and, in some cases,  a third-party personal injury lawsuit.

A recent case before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Eastern District illustrates how the line between workers’ compensation and personal injury can be blurred. In Bowman v. Sunoco, Inc., the appellant was employed by Allied Security as a private security guard. As part of her employment with Allied Security, she was required to sign a Workers’ Compensation Disclaimer that barred her from suing any clients of Allied Security for injuries covered under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.

The appellant subsequently slipped on ice or snow while she was working for Allied Security on the property of a Sunoco station, a client of Allied Security.

The disclaimer signed by the appellant stated:

“As a result, and in consideration of Allied Security offering me employment, I hereby waive and forever release any and all rights I may have to:

  • make a claim, or
  • commence a lawsuit, or
  • recover damages or losses

from or against any customer (and the employees of any customer) of Allied Security to which I may be assigned, arising from or related to injuries which are covered under the Workers’ Compensation statutes.”

The appellant filed a workers’ compensation claim as well as a negligence claim against Sunoco on the basis of its failure to maintain safe conditions. Sunoco claimed that the appellant waived her right to assert a claim by signing the disclaimer when she accepted employment with Allied Security. The issue before the court was whether the disclaimer violates Section 204(a) of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, which states:

“No agreement, composition, or release of damages made before the date of any injury shall be valid or shall bar a claim for damages resulting therefrom; and any such agreement is declared to be against the public policy of this Commonwealth.”

Both lower courts found in favor of Sunoco. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts’ decisions. Specifically, the court found that:

“Based on this history, we determine the legislature originally intended and presently intends the provisions of § 204(a) to apply only to agreements to bar a claim against an employer, and not to the circumstances of the case sub judice, as argued by appellant.”

For workers who routinely work offsite, or on the premises of clients of the employer, the ruling essentially means that if you sign a disclaimer waiving your right to sue a third-party for injuries sustained on their property while you are within the scope of employment, you are likely limited to compensation through the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation system.

Because a workplace injury can occur under a wide variety of different scenarios, it is best to consult an Worker’s Compensation to determine your legal options.  Although the workers’ compensation system is intended to protect injured workers, it can be difficult to navigate. If you have questions or concerns about your legal rights to compensation, contact Shor & Levin, the Bulldog Lawyers, by calling 855-860-8548 or by using our online contact form.