As you probably know, if you are injured on the job, your employer must pay you certain medical and wage replacement benefits under Georgia’s workers’ compensation law. Indeed, workers’ compensation provides what is considered an “exclusive remedy” in these situations. That is to say, you cannot file a personal injury lawsuit against your employer so long as it complies with the workers’ compensation law.
The exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation does not apply to potential claims against third parties. For example, if you are driving a company-owned truck on a delivery and get hit by a drunk driver, workers’ compensation does not prevent you from suing that driver. Of course, if you do successfully pursue a personal injury claim against the drunk driver, then your employer may seek to recoup some of the workers’ compensation benefits previously paid to you.
Sprowson v. Villalobos
Now let us look at a slightly more complex legal situation. Suppose you are a temporary worker detailed to another company. An accident caused by an employee of that company then injures you in an accident. Does workers’ compensation cover this situation?
The Georgia Supreme Court addressed this exact scenario in a recent decision, Sprowson v. Villalobos. The plaintiff in this case, a man named Villalobos, was employed by Labor Ready, a temporary staffing agency. Labor Ready assigned Villalobos to work as a crew member for Waste Pro of South Carolina. While working for Waste Pro, Villalobos was injured when one of the company’s sanitation trucks hit him. Villalobos subsequently received workers’ compensation benefits from Labor Ready.
Villalobos then proceeded to file a personal injury lawsuit against Waste Pro and the driver who hit him, a Waste Pro employee named Sprowson. Sprowson moved for summary judgment–i.e., to dismiss the case against him–arguing any negligence on his part was still covered by the “exclusive remedy” of workers’ compensation. The trial court disagreed and denied Sprowson’s motion, prompting him to appeal.
The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Sprowson was in fact entitled to summary judgment. The appeals court explained that at the time of the accident, Villalobos was a “borrowed servant.” In other words, although he was employed by Labor Ready, the nature of the contractual relationship between Labor Ready and Waste Pro meant that Villalobos was considered an employee of Waste Pro for purposes of workers’ compensation. Therefore Villalobos did not have the option to sue Waste Pro or any of its employees–including Sprowson–for injuries that Villalobos sustained in a work-related accident.
A key reason the borrowed servant rule applied here, the Court of Appeals noted, was that Waste Pro had a contractual right to exercise “exclusive supervision” over Villalobos during his temporary job with the company. For example, Labor Ready was required to “remove” Villalobos had Waste Pro requested such an action. Labor Ready further disclaimed any responsibility to supervise Villalobos while he was assigned to Waste Pro.