U.S. Court Finds Injured Worker Is Not a Borrowed Employee of Post Office – Fowler v. U.S.

An Illinois District judge denied the U.S. government’s motion for summary judgment on the basis that the government had failed to establish that the plaintiff’s claim was not valid in James D. Fowler v. The United States of America, 08-CV-2785. The U.S. government had attempted to prove that the plaintiff was barred from receiving compensation from the post office because he had already received workers’ compensation directly from his employer. However, the district court disagreed with the U.S.’s classification of the plaintiff as a “borrowed employee,” thereby denying its motion for summary judgment.

The claims in Fowler arose out of an injury that James Fowler sustained at a while delivering mail to a Libertyville Post Office. Fowler was an employee of Eagle Express, a company which regularly contracted with the U.S. Postal Service to move mail between its various facilities. Under these “highway contract routes” (HCR) agreements, Eagle Express was responsible for covering all of the costs and duties associated with delivering mail on its required routes, including the payment and insuring of Eagle Express employees.

So even though Fowler was injured at the Libertyville Post Office while engaged in work for the U.S. Postal Service, his workers’ compensation claim was covered by Eagle Express. However, he sought to recovery additional damages from the U.S. Post Office based on the negligence of its employees in causing his injury based on the Federal Tort Claims Act. The FTCA allows parties to sue the U.S. for personal injury “caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission” of any federal government employee “while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1).

However, the U.S. argued that it was not liable for Fowler’s injuries because he was a borrowed employee. Because the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act is an exclusive remedy, an employee’s employer and any borrowing employer are immune from tort liability arising from an injury. Jorden v. U.S., Dist. Court, ND Illinois 2011. U.S. argued that just as Fowler was barred from pursuing a lawsuit against Eagle Express because he had already recovered workers’ compensation, so was Fowler barred from suing the U.S. Post Services based on his status as a borrowed employee.

Therefore, the main issue was whether or not Fowler was in fact a borrowed employee. If he was, then the court must grant the U.S. motion for summary judgment; if he was not, then the U.S.’s motion must be denied. The majority of the court’s analysis was of the HCR contracts between Eagle Express and the U.S. Postal Service, which included the following provisions:

  • Eagle Express employees are paid by Eagle Express;
  • Eagle Express trains their own employees;
  • Eagle Express employees only drive Eagle Express trucks;
  • Eagle Express also covers its employees’ workers compensation insurance.

Based on its review of the case facts, the court found that Eagle Express was hired to provide transportation services, not to provide employees. Eagle Express, and not the U.S. Postal Service, was Fowler’s primary and only employer. Therefore, Fowler was not “borrowed” to the U.S. Postal Service, but rather was fulfilling his employer’s contracted work to the post office.

The district court held that since the government had not carried its burden of showing entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, that the motion for summary judgment was denied. The court found that the relationship between Fowler’s employer and the postal service was one of services, not a contract for employees.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois personal injury cases for individuals and families for more than 36 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Rolling Meadows, Winfield, Deerfield, Forest Park, Crestwood, Inverness, and Des Plaines.

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