Pa. Supreme Court Endorses WC Claimant’s Employer-Mandated Waiver of Claimant’s Right to Civil Claim
Sabrina Bowman v. Sunoco, Inc., (Pa. Supreme Court 4/25/2013)
The Claimant had been employed by Allied Barton Security Services as a security guard. At the start of her employment, she was obliged to sign a disclaimer or waiver form. Pertinently, the waiver provided that, in consideration of her being hired, she waived her rights to file any civil action against any of her employer’s customers, in connection with any claim arising out of a work-related injury.
Claimant was assigned to perform security duties at a Sunoco facility. She sustained a fall down injury in the course of her work, evidently as the result of snow not being cleared from some portion of Sunoco’s outdoor premises.
Ms. Bowman made a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, and ultimately settled her WC entitlement by way of Compromise and Release. She also filed suit against Sunoco as a third party under the theory that its negligence caused her work injury.
Sunoco asserted the waiver as a procedural defense. Ms. Bowman argued that §204(a) of the WC Act barred such a waiver. However, the trial court, and the Superior Court, as well as the Supreme Court disagreed.
The Supreme Court provided a lengthy discussion of the legislative purpose of the Workers’ Compensation Act, especially the underlying premise that the WC Act consisted of a bargain between employers and employees to adjudicate liability for work injuries without the burden of proving or defending a civil negligence claim as between the employee and the employer. However, the Court found that the §204(a) bar of any waiver of an employee’s rights under the Workers’ Compensation Act did not apply to civil actions against third parties.
What may be of more interest to you, however, is the balancing of interests made by the employer, Allied Barton. Here, as a service vendor to Sunoco, presumably a major customer, Allied Barton evidently determined that placating Sunoco (by providing it with a built-in procedural defense to civil claims such as the one filed by Ms. Bowman) was more important than mitigating its workers’ compensation exposure. After all, these business interests aside; Allied Barton’s insistence that Claimant waive any civil action necessarily eliminated any opportunity for subrogation under §319 of the WC Act.
Mark L. Mazzanti, Esquire