Pyramids of Escape: Independent Contractors and How They are a Threat to Your Accident Compensation.

roof_tile_roofs_house-1024x768If you are injured by someone in their course of employment, you can contact their employer for your compensation. But unfortunately, employers hire independent contractors to skirt around liability when their workers mess up. Below is a cautionary tale about how cascading levels of independent contractors left an injured plaintiff with limited sources for his injuries. 

Jarrett Lemmon was in an accident involving Jonathan De La Mora that resulted in damage and injury. Lemmon sued Jonathan for causing the accident. Later, Lemmon amended his suit to add Jonathan’s employer, Rosendo De La Mora, and RoofCorp USA, LLC, as responsible for the accident, claiming that Jonathan was working within the scope of his employment when he struck Lemmon. RoofCorp USA, LLC was the parent company that hired Rosendo De La Mora to install roofs as an independent contractor. Rosendo De La Mora then hired his son Jonathan to help install the roofs, separate from RoofCorp’s payroll. RoofCorp filed a motion for summary judgment at the district court level, claiming they could not be held responsible; it was granted.  Unhappy with the ruling, Lemmon appealed.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals was then tasked with deciding if the trial court properly awarded RoofCorp summary judgment. To do so, the appeals court must determine if Jonathan was an employee of Roofcorp at the time of the accident, and the court must decide if Jonathan was in the scope of his employment when the accident occurred. Lemmon claims that Jonathan was an employee of RoofCorp in the court of his employment when he hit Lemmon. 

The primary issue, in this case, was the doctrine of respondeat superior. This doctrine holds that an employer is responsible for damages caused by their employees if those employees caused that damage during their employment. Baumeister v. Plunkett. But not all people who work for an employer are employees. Independent contractors work for an employer, but the employers are generally not held responsible for the independent contractor’s actions. Davis v. Insurance Co. of North America. The questions the court had to answer were if Jonathan was an employee or independent contractor for RoofCorp and if he was in the course of his employment at the time of the accident. 

In ruling on the summary judgment, the court of appeals applied a fact-intensive line of inquiry into the lower court’s conclusions. The court of appeals found that RoofCorp had presented testimony that demonstrated that Jonathan was not an employee or independent contractor for them at the time of the injury. Jonathan worked for his father, Rosendo, at the time of the accident. Rosendo was an independent contractor for RoofCorp. There are two layers of disconnect between RoofCorp and Jonathan.

Additionally, Jonathan was on his way home from work when the accident occurred. Jonathan was not working as an employee of RoofCorp at the time of the accident. Therefore RoofCorp could not be held liable for the accident he caused. 

Independent Contractors are not the same as employees in the eyes of liability law. Employers will seek to classify their employees as independent contractors to avoid having liability insurance for any accidents they may cause. As a result, the worker is left with little support when those accidents occur, and those hurt by the accidents cannot fully recover from the employer. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the channels of employment relations to best secure a just and fair compensation for your injuries. 


By Berniard Law Firm Writer: Ethan W. Seitz

Additional Berniard Law Blogs on Employment Liability Issues:  Vicarious Liability Explored in Jones Act Case

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