Liability Questions about Negligent Conduct by Temporary Workers Who Cause Injuries in New Jersey
It is not uncommon for temporary staff or individuals employed by another business to be utilized to meet short-term staffing needs, particularly in an industry’s busy season. These individuals are often referred to as “borrowed workers,” and while they might be the perfect solution in times of increased labor needs, the borrowed workers also present unique legal questions and challenges for their employers, the businesses who temporarily utilize their labor, others who may be injured due to the negligence of a borrowed worker, and the borrowed worker themselves in the area of personal injury law.
If you fall into one of these categories, read on to learn how issues of injury, negligence, and liability are handled differently when they involve borrowed workers, and how the law in New Jersey is developing in this area.
The Concept of “Borrowed Workers” in NJ
A borrowed worker is an individual who is not an employee of the business or entity at which they are contributing labor, but rather they are an employee of an affiliate business or entity, which has supplied its employees to contribute labor to the other business. So, while the individual might be on-site and contributing labor to the operations of one business, they are employed and paid by another.
The Borrowed-Servant Doctrine
To provide full context for liability issues surrounding the missteps or negligence of a borrowed worker, it is important to discuss another legal doctrine first: respondent superior. Respondent superior is a doctrine concerning the vicarious liability of an employer for the actions of their employee. Under this doctrine, if an employee acts in the scope of their employment with the intent to bring about a benefit to the employer, the employer can be held vicariously liable for the employee’s actions. A central question in determining vicarious liability under the doctrine of respondent superior is whether the employer exercised control over the employee and can therefore be found to have set the sequence of events into motion.
An issue that arises in the context of negligence by a “borrowed” worker is which business is potentially liable for the harm caused by that borrowed worker—the worker’s actual employer or the business to which they are contributing their labor temporarily?
The legal doctrine of the “borrowed-servant” addresses this conflict by holding that the worker’s actual employer is the party that is vicariously liable for the actions of their employee while they are contributing labor to the other business. Sometimes, however, relationships between an employer and an affiliate company can become very complicated and intertwined. In such cases, it is critical to examine the relationship between the entities and the control exerted upon the employee/borrowed worker to determine whether it is proper to apply the doctrine of the borrowed servant.
Two Practical Case Examples
Galvao v. G.R. Robert Construction
A case exemplifying the application of this doctrine in the context of two very intertwined companies was Galvao v. G.R. Robert Construction. In Galvao, the court noted several different legal doctrines that could be applied to determine which entity should be held liable for the “special” employee’s actions, and concluded that synthesizing the doctrines into a framework, rather than choosing one over the others, was the most appropriate approach. As a result, the court found that a two prong test should apply: (1) whether a general employer exercised either broad or on-the-spot control over a special employee or (2) whether the actions of the special employee furthered the business of the general employer. Control may include dictating the way a task is accomplished, the right to terminate an employee, and more.
Pantano v. New York Shipping Association
In a recent New Jersey case, Pantano v. New York Shipping Association, the law surrounding the doctrines of respondent superior and borrowed worker, as well as precedential case law from Galvao, were put into application. In this case, the plaintiff was injured by a forklift operator, who was a borrowed, temporary worker from an affiliated company that worked closely with the plaintiff’s employer.
Applying the framework from Galvao, the appellate court judge in Pantano ruled that the plaintiff’s employer exercised control over the forklift operator and that his “employer” was little more than a paycheck issuer with little control over his activities. Now, the New Jersey Supreme Court is set to issue its findings on whether the borrowed servant doctrine is a question of law or fact after hearing arguments from the parties in November 2022.
Why is This Information Significant for the Future of a Negligence-Related Work Injury Case?
The implications of the Supreme Court’s finding may be significant. In a court of law, questions of fact are considered and determined by a jury, whereas questions of law are considered and determined by a judge. If the borrowed servant doctrine is found to be a question of fact, the case may be remanded to a lower court for a jury to determine whether each element of the doctrine was met in Pantano. This will also determine whether a jury or judge will make these determinations in the future. While every case is different, there are generally held beliefs that a jury may tend to be more sympathetic to a plaintiff, and a judge may apply the law in a more sophisticated manner.
Exceptional Counsel is Crucial for Victims Injured by Borrowed Workers in New Jersey
The law surrounding liability relating to the negligence or intentional acts of borrowed workers is nuanced and yet, unsettled. If you or a loved one have suffered an injury at work due to the negligence or intentional acts of another worker who may be classified as a “borrowed” or “temporary” worker, resolving your case and receiving the full compensation that you are entitled to will likely involve a very deep analysis of the factors described above.
While every injury case can use the guidance of an experienced lawyer, exceptional advice and knowledge in cases involving the missteps of a borrowed worker are absolutely critical. Our team of seasoned New Jersey injury lawyers at Cohen & Riechelson are well-versed in the nuances of this area of law and continue to stay up to date on the latest legal developments.
As a dedicated law firm handling injury cases in New Jersey for over 50 years, it is our commitment and passion to use all of our acquired knowledge, skills, and victories to fight for the highest possible settlement or verdict on your behalf. We assist injured victims and workers in Mercer County and Middlesex County in towns such as Hightstown, Princeton, Lawrence, Hamilton, Ewing, Trenton, Robbinsville, Windsor, and other New Jersey locations.