Staffing firms and their clients have long been protected in the event of workplace injury to temporary workers by what is known as “exclusive remedy” — in general, workers’ only recourse when injured was to receive workers’ compensation coverage. In a ruling specifically pertaining to temporary workers, a Wisconsin court turned that precedent on its head, stating that state statute bars claims “only where the temporary employee ‘makes a claim for compensation’ … It therefore follows,” the court explained, “that a temporary employee who has not made a claim for compensation under the Act is permitted to pursue a tort claim against his or her temporary employer.”

The case involved a temporary worker who was killed in a car accident while on an assignment — the vehicle was company-owned and was driven by another employee of the client company. The temporary worker’s family sued the employer rather than accept workers’ comp death benefits.

Eric Hobbes, an attorney with law firm Ogletree Deakins, anticipates the Wisconsin legislature will “enact a statutory fix” in the statute that led to the court’s ruling, or that the case will be appealed and taken up by the state Supreme Court, he writes in The National Law Review. In the meantime, he warns, employers may find themselves at risk in the event temporary workers are injured on the job in Wisconsin.