PHILADELPHIA – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled Tuesday that Reading Hospital maintains statutory immunity under the Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Act (PWCA), as the employer of a man injured at the facility in February 2013.
Judge Patty Shwartz issued a decision on behalf of herself and fellow Judges Joseph A. Greenaway Jr. and Thomas I. Vanaskie, which declared correct a granting of summary judgment for Reading Hospital, in a personal injury case brought against the institution by appellants Thomas Ochs and Laura Ochs.
Thomas Ochs was a contractual employee of AMN Healthcare (AMN), a healthcare staffing company. Ochs was placed at the hospital for a one-month assignment, to help the facility in its transition to a new health record software platform called Epic.
Ochs’ job duties included answering questions from hospital employees about how to use the new software. While Ochs would approach hospital employees who were “looking confused,” he was also directed by hospital supervisors to assist specific employees.
Several days after starting this assignment, Ochs was injured when he tripped and fell on steps at the hospital. The Ochses sued Reading Hospital, alleging negligence and loss of consortium.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Allentown granted the hospital’s summary judgment motion, ruling the hospital was immune from suit under the PWCA because “it controlled the relevant aspects of Ochs’s work, and hence was his employer.”
The Ochses appealed to the Third Circuit.
“The District Court correctly concluded that Ochs was a ‘borrowed servant’ as a matter of law, making the hospital his employer under the PWCA and thus statutorily immune from suit,” Shwartz said.
“Employees who are injured at work are limited to the compensation available to them under the PWCA and cannot separately sue their employers for personal injury. This immunity from suit extends from the direct employer to another entity that has ‘borrowed’ the employee if the latter exercises sufficient control over the employee,” Shwartz added. “The undisputed facts here demonstrate that the hospital had the right to, and did, control the manner of Ochs’s daily work.”
Shwartz pointed to “hospital personnel…who instructed him on when and where to work, required him to abide by hospital policies, dictated his dress code, and directed him to assist specific hospital staff in using the hospital’s customized software” to make this determination, in addition AMN not providing Ochs with ongoing direction after placing him for assignment at Reading Hospital.
“While AMN’s contract with the hospital specified that consultants provided under the agreement would ‘for the purposes of the agreement, be considered employees of’ AMN, it is well settled under Pennsylvania law that parties are not bound by their characterization of the employee-employer relationship,” Shwartz said. “The facts show Ochs was loaned to the hospital as a borrowed servant and it was his employer under the PWCA.”
Shwartz upheld the District Court’s earlier summary judgment for Reading Hospital.
Shwartz concluded, “Ochs acknowledges that he received several days of training on hospital procedures and the hospital’s specific implementation of Epic, and hospital employees familiar with the hospital’s customized Epic software were available to answer Ochs’s questions. Thus, any pre-existing expertise Ochs may have had does not alter the conclusion that the hospital had the right to control the manner of his work.”
The appellants are represented by Kevin S. Riechelson, Mark D. Laderman and Philip J. Cohen of Kamensky Cohen & Riechelson, in Trenton, N.J.
The appellees are represented by Collin T. Keyser of Saxton & Stump, in Leola.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 15-2728
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 5:14-cv-04017
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org