Law School Case Brief
Fitzgerald v. Mobil Oil Corp. - 827 F. Supp. 1301 (E.D. Mich. 1993)
Generally, determination of an employer/employee relationship is a question of law for the judge. Whether a company is a particular worker's "employer," as that term is used in the workers' compensation act, is a question of law for the courts to decide if the evidence on the matter is reasonably susceptible of but a single inference. Only where the evidence bearing on the company's status is disputed, or where conflicting inferences may reasonably be drawn from the known facts, is the issue one for the trier of fact to decide.
Plaintiff Harold M. Fitzgerald, a tractor-trailer driver, was injured on the job when he fell from the top of the tanker trailer he used to deliver oil. The trailer was owned by defendant Montgomery Tank Lines, Inc. ("Montgomery")and was leased to defendant Mobil Oil Corporation ("Mobil"). The tractor was owned by a third party and also was leased to Mobil. Fitzgerald was hired to deliver loads of oil from Mobil's facility various Mobil customers. Fitzgerald filed a lawsuit against defendants in federal district court alleging that defendants negligently provided him with an unsafe and defective tanker, and that the tanker was not equipped with adequate safety devices. Mobil filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that it was Fitzgerald's employer and, therefore, the exclusive remedy available to Fitzgerald was that provided under the Michigan Worker's Disability Compensation Act.
Did Fitzgerald's claim for personal injuries fall under the Michigan Worker's Disability Compensation Act?
The court granted Mobil's motion for summary judgment and dismissed Mobil from the action. The court held that, under the economic realities test, Mobil was Fitzgerald's employer in that: (1) Mobil had at least partial control of Fitzgerald's job duties and exclusive control was not required; (2) Mobil clearly paid Fitzgerald's wages, and; (3) Mobil had the right to hire, fire and discipline Fitzgerald. The court ruled that, even though an intermediary party handed out work assignments, the fact that Mobil had the power to stop Fitzgerald from engaging in the daily tasks he relied on for wages was sufficient for purposes of the economic realities test.
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