By: Richard E. Guttentag, Esq., Stearns, Roberts & Guttentag, LLC
Florida’s workers’ compensation laws are a comprehensive scheme designed to provide swift compensation to injured workers regardless of fault or cause of injury. In exchange, employers who comply with the worker’s compensation laws are generally immune from personal injury lawsuits brought by their employees, except in limited circumstances. The immunity conferred on employers by workers’ compensation can be extended under a doctrine known as the “borrowed servant” doctrine and to employers utilizing employees of a “help supply services company.” The case of Baker v. Airguide Mfg., LLC, 2014 WL 5462528 (Fla. 3d DCA October 29, 2014), analyzed the “borrowed servant” doctrine and whether an employment agency was a “help supply service company” in determining whether a manufacturer, which had been supplied a worker by the agency, was entitled to workers’ compensation immunity.
In Baker v. Airguide Manufacturing, LLC, an Employee worked for an employment agency (“Employment Agency”) that supplied employees to shorthanded companies. Employee was assigned to an air conditioning duct manufacturer (“Manufacturer”), and while working at the Manufacturer’s facility, suffered an injury. Employee successfully filed a worker’s compensation claim with the Employment Agency, and was reimbursed for her injury under the worker’s compensation system.
Unsatisfied with the amount of her worker’s compensation recovery, Employee filed a personal injury action against Manufacturer. In defense of the lawsuit, Manufacturer argued that it was immune from the action because Employee was either a borrowed servant under the common law doctrine, or was an employee of a help supply services company under the workers’ compensation laws. The trial court agreed with Manufacturer, entered summary judgment in favor of Manufacturer, and Employee appealed.
As an extension of the immunity conferred on employers by workers’ compensation, the “borrowed servant” doctrine was developed to cover employers that utilize other companies’ employees to perform their work. Under the “borrowed servant” doctrine, the company borrowing employees from another company is entitled to the same workers’ compensation immunity as the employee’s actual employer. Thus, the “borrowed servant” doctrine has two purposes: ensuring that a borrowed employee is covered by workers’ compensation, and extending worker’s compensation immunity to companies who employ borrowed workers.
Florida law also extends workers’ compensation immunity to employers that use the employees of a “help supply services company.” A help supply services company is a business that supplies workers to other businesses for limited periods of time to supplement the other business’ work force. Although the workers are employees of the help supply services company, the borrowing company is responsible for supervising the employees’ work. A business (“borrowing company”), which uses the services of employees of a help supply services company is immune from negligence lawsuits arising from injuries suffered by the leased employees while acting in furtherance of the borrowing company’s business, as long as workers’ compensation insurance is secured by the borrowing company or the help supply services company.
The appellate court concluded that the Employment Agency was clearly a help supply services company because it supplied workers to various companies for a fee, the Employment Agency was Employee’s actual employer, and Employee had been sent to work at Manufacturer to meet Manufacturer’s labor demands. Therefore, the court held that the Manufacturer was entitled to workers’ compensation immunity, immune from Employee’s negligence action, and Employee could not seek any additional recovery beyond what she had already obtained from her worker’s compensation claim against the Employment Agency.
This case demonstrates that a company which uses the services of employees of a “help supply service company” is entitled to workers’ compensation immunity from workplace injuries suffered by the service company’s employees, as long as workers’ compensation insurance is secured by the borrowing company or the help supply service company.
About the Authors: Richard E. Guttentag is a partner with Stearns, Roberts & Guttentag, LLC, and is Board Certified in Construction Law by the Florida Bar. Mr. Guttentag exclusively in construction law including construction lien claims and defense, payment and performance bond claims and defense, bid protests, construction contract preparation and negotiation, and construction and design defect claims and defense. He can be reached for consultation at [email protected]. Roberts & Guttentag, LLC. in construction law including construction lien claims, payment and performance bond claims, construction contract preparation, and construction and design defect claims. He can be reached for consultation at [email protected].