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9th District: Injured worker’s negligence case can move forward

Legal News Reporter

Published: October 8, 2014

A Wayne County trial court erred by ruling a temp agency worker was acting as a regular waste treatment facility employee while injured on the job, the 9th District Court of Appeals recently ruled.

Hobert J. Mills, who was working for the Staffing Partners agency, sued Enviro-Tank Clean, Inc. for negligence after falling on Dec. 20, 2010.

According to case summary, Mills was working at Enviro-Tank as a water plant operator filling a frac tank with wastewater and treating it with sulfuric acid. He was hurt after tumbling from a ladder to check the water level inside the frac tank.

Enviro-Tank argued it was immune from suit because Mills was an Enviro-Tank rather than a Staffing Partners employee, and because he had already received Ohio Workers’ Compensation benefits for his injuries.

The trial court granted Enviro-Tank’s motion for summary judgment after finding Mills was acting as one of that company’s employees.

In his deposition, Mills testified he worked for Enviro-Tank for more than two years, starting as a janitor. He said his paychecks were from Staffing Partners. However, he admitted wearing an Enviro-Tank uniform and using all Enviro-Tank safety equipment. In addition, Enviro-Tank set his work schedule, trained him, assigned his duties, handled his requests for time off and had the authority to discipline him.

On appeal, Mill argued at the time he was injured, Enviro-Tank did not have the right to control him when he climbed the 10-foot ladder because that company agreed not to have workers climb any ladders over six feet without Staffing Partners’ written permission.

An Enviro-Tank supervisor testified they had a right to control Mills even if they hadn’t received the temporary agency’s permission for him to climb higher than six feet.

In a majority opinion, the appellate court found that summary judgment was improper on the issue of workers’ compensation immunity, and the case was remanded.

“The safety agreement constituted a pertinent agreement that tended to show that Staffing Partners specifically retained the right to control the means and manner of Mr. Mills’ work as detailed in the agreement,” 9th District Judge Eve Belfance wrote.

Appellate judges Beth Whitmore and Carla Moore concurred.

The case is cited Mills v. Enviro-Tank Clean Inc., 2014-Ohio-3866.