A worker who sustained serious injury after falling from a scaffolding at a construction site has successfully won the right to pursue workers’ compensation benefits, following a protracted court battle.
At issue in Carbajal v. Precision Builders, Inc., before the Oklahoma Supreme Court, was whether the worker was in fact an employee of the firm from which he sought benefits, or whether he was an independent contractor.
Our scaffolding injury attorneys recognize this as an issue that arises with unfortunate frequency in construction accidents, primarily due to the nature of how construction work is structured. Contracting is a common way of doling out work on these job sites. However, it can lead to confusion when an injury occurs and a question arises of who is responsible for covering the claim.
In Florida, as in many other states, independent contractors are not eligible to receive workers’ compensation coverage, and employers aren’t required to purchase insurance for independent contractors. However, just because an employer says a worker is an independent contractor doesn’t make it so.
In the Carbajal case, the worker alleged he was working on a construction project in April 2010 when a scaffolding on which he was standing was blown over by a strong gust of wind.
He filed a workers’ compensation claim for the injuries he sustained, and it was denied on the grounds he was an independent contractor.
In these disputes, what matters is the degree of control the employer had over the worker, the way hiring and pay is structured, whether equipment is provided, the character of work and training and whether there were any existing written agreements.
Here, the worker testified he worked as part of a crew of nine, and that his supervisors at the firm instructed him on where to go, when to be there, when he could leave and at what time he could take his lunch. Typically, he worked 8 to 14 hours daily, and he was not free to leave the construction site as desired.
He stated the company gave him assignments regularly, with the most time elapsing between assignments approximately three weeks. However, he was often hired off the street.
On this particular assignment, he says his supervisor did not invite him to go, but rather ordered him to do so. He indicated he was sometimes paid for travel costs, and that while he did have some of his own tools, the employer provided some as well. He also indicated his hourly wages were tracked by one of two supervisors.
Although a three judge appellate panel found no specific testimony indicating direction, control and orders from the employer to the worker, the state supreme court disagreed.
The court further declined to adopt the employer’s stance that any person hired off the street for manual labor is automatically an independent contractor. The court noted there was no communication between the employer and the employee indicating independent contractor status.
Therefore, the state supreme court reversed the lower courts, declared the worker an employee and remanded the case for further proceedings on the issue of whether the injury arose out of the course of employment.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Carbajal v. Precision Builders, Inc., July 1, 2014, Oklahoma Supreme Court
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