Will Iowa Courts Enforce Agreements Allowing Employers to Avoid Liability for Injuries to Temporary Workers?
Workplace accidents in Iowa are normally covered by workers’ compensation. This means the employer is required to provide certain medical and wage-replacement benefits to an injured employee, regardless of who may have been at fault for the underlying accident. But what about a situation where a person is hired by a third-party broker to work for the employer? Is the broker liable for providing workers’ compensation coverage? Or can the injured employee file a claim against the negligent client?
The Iowa Court of Appeals recently addressed just such a scenario. In Taylor v. Gazette Communications, Inc., the plaintiff contracted with a temporary staffing company called Aerotek. Under the contract, the plaintiff agreed to waive any potential personal injury claims he might have against any Aerotek client that he was assigned to work for. In exchange, Aerotek agreed to provide its own workers’ compensation coverage in the event the plaintiff suffered an on-the-job injury.
Aerotek assigned the plaintiff to work for the defendant in this case. While operating machinery for the defendant, the plaintiff “suffered a partial amputation of his left-hand pinkie finger,” according to court records. He subsequently sued the defendant for negligence in Iowa state court.
The defendant argued the plaintiff’s lawsuit was barred under the terms of his agreement with Aerotek, which effectively absolved the defendant of any responsibility for the plaintiff’s injuries. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment to the defendant. The Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed the trial judge’s ruling in a June 17, 2020, opinion.
The appeals court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the exculpatory clause in his contract with Aerotek was unenforceable due to Aerotek’s failure to ensure the defendant provided him with “site specific training” and a “safe workspace.” The Court said the contract contained no such requirement. Indeed, Aerotek’s agreement with the plaintiff did not contain any “provisions relating to safety or hazards.”
Ultimately, the Court explained that, under Iowa law, it has long upheld the validity of contracts similar to the one signed by the plaintiff, i.e., agreements limiting an injured temporary worker’s remedies to a claim against the broker’s workers’ compensation insurance. Having signed the agreement, the plaintiff could not now try and hold the defendant liable for his injuries.
Speak with an Iowa Personal Injury & Workers’ Compensation Attorney Today
Many people sign contracts before carefully reading or attempting to understand its terms. This often leads to outcomes like the one described above. Even if there is proof that the defendant committed a negligent act, a contract may protect them from the consequences of that negligence. And even when the victim can still seek workers’ compensation benefits, they may not fully grasp their legal rights.
An experienced Southeast Iowa personal injury lawyer can help. If you have been seriously injured in any type of work-related accident, you cannot rely on your employer or labor broker to look out for your best interests. Instead, contact the Noyes Law Office, P.C., to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with a member of our legal team.