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Can a temporary worker sue their place of work?

Many companies use workers' compensation as a way of shielding themselves from litigation if one of their employees is injured or killed on the job. Instead, employees who suffer injury can file a workers' compensation claim with their company.

But what is the law with respect to temporary workers? Do they have the right to sue the business that has contracted their services?  Who provides workers' compensation benefits?  Can the temp worker sue the company where he was performing work?

Georgia law states clearly that an injured employee may only file for workers' compensation benefits if they are injured on the job.  The employee cannot sue their employer for tort damages (money damages separate from workers' compensation) for the injury.  However, when a  temp agency places an employee at a work location at another company (lets call this the "work site") and an injury occurs at the work site, can the temp worker sue the work site company for tort damages?  

The Georgia Workers' Compensation Act states that a business using the services of a temporary help contracting firm is immune from tort claims by a temporary worker--as long as the "benefits required by this chapter are provided by the temporary help contracting firm."  If your paycheck comes from a temp agency, but the temp agency has you working at another business location, the employee can file for workers' compensation benefits with the temp agency.  

To better understand the above stipulation, we'll examine two examples:

Business has tort immunity

In the case of Lewis v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., a temporary worker at a Georgia resin plant suffered severe burns from chemical exposure on the job. The plant had retained the temporary worker through a third-party temp agency. The court found that the temporary worker was not allowed to file a claim against Georgia-Pacific.  The court held that the temporary worker was considered to be the "borrowed servant" of Georgia-Pacific and thus Georgia-Pacific could not be sued for damages because Georgia-Pacific was found to have complete control and direction over the temporary worker for the occasion and, the temp agency had no such control.  

Business does not have tort immunity

However, in the case of Yoho v. Ringier of America, Inc., a Georgia printing company contracted with a temp agency to do repair work on their solvent recovery system. When an explosion occurred on-site, one of the temp workers filed a negligence claim against the printing company. In this case, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the claim was permissible.  In this claim, the Court found that the owner of the business could not be a contractor, which is required by the Statute, and was not immune from a law suit.  

The difference

The distinction often comes down to whether the company that contracted the temp agency is considered the "statutory employer." A statutory employer directs and supervises a temp worker on the job. They also have the ability to terminate the temp worker.

In the case of Lewis v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., managers at the resin plant directed and oversaw the temp workers they contracted and were found to be General Contractors over the project, not statutory employers. However, with Yoho v. Ringier of America, Inc., it was the temp agency that assumed these responsibilities over the temp workers. Therefore, the printing company was not deemed to be a statutory employer.

Statutory employers are immune from tort claims by temporary workers. Therefore, if you're a temporary worker who suffered injury on the job, you stand a better chance of pursuing legal action against the company that contracted you if you can demonstrate they are not a statutory employer.

The distinction between these situations can be complicated. If you've been injured on the job and are not receiving benefits, contact an experienced lawyer as soon as possible.  #workerscomp #workerscompensation #workmanscomp

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