Injured Driver Can Sue Employer's Customer

As an employee of Buckeye Metal Co., a broker, processor and recyclerof scrap metal, Artis Stinnett was required to drive a tractor-trailer loaded with large steel bins that Buckeye provided to its customers as receptacles for scrap metal. Stinnett also was responsible for helping customers' employees with unloading empty bins from his trailer and loading full bins for transport to Buckeye's facility in Cleveland.

One of Buckeye's customers was Halcore Group Inc., a company that manufactures ambulances at a plant in Columbus, Ohio. On Feb 15, 2002, Stinnett drove from Buckeye to Halcore with a load of empty bins. Because Halcore did not have a loading dock at the gate where Stinnett was instructed to unload the bins, Stinnett and the Halcore employee usually assigned to assist him had devised a method in which Stinnett pushed the bins to the end of the trailer and the Halcore employee used a chain and a forklift to remove the bins.

On that day, Stinnett's usual helper was not available, and Halcore assigned another employee to unload the bins. While the new assistant was using the forklift to move a bin, the bin struck Stinnett, knocking him out of the trailer and onto the ground seriously injuring his left knee, ankle and foot.

Stinnett sued Halcore, charging it with negligence. Halcore claimed it was immune from suit because Stinnett was its employee, in accordance with the "borrowed servant" doctrine. (Under workers'compensation laws, an injured employee is entitled to workers' compensation benefits, but has no right to sue his employer for additional damages related to his injury.)

The Ohio trial court agreed with Halcore, and dismissed Stinnett's lawsuit. On appeal, the Ohio Court of Appeals noted that under Ohio law (and the law of many states), if an employer "lends" its employee to a customer and that customer controls the manner or means of performing the employee's work, then that employee is considered an employee of the customer within the meaning of the workers' compensation act, and the customer cannot be sued for any injury the employee suffers in the course of his work for the customer.

The appellate court concluded that Stinnett was not a loaned servant of Halcore., because Halcore did not control the manner and means of his work. "The evidence shows that the only instruction a Halcore employee ever gave Stinnett was to park his trailer at a particular gate at the Halcore facility," the court stated.

Stinnett v. Halcore Group Inc., 847 N.E.2d 16 (Ohio App. 2006), Court of Appeals of Ohio, Feb. 7, 2006.
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