Legal options for independent contractors injured on the job

North Carolina can be tough on injured workers who are not actually “employees.”

Workers' compensation plays an important role in the employer/employee relationship. If injured on the job, a worker agrees to abandon a personal injury lawsuit in return for the employer providing insurance benefits in the event of an injury.

In theory, this is beneficial for both workers and employers, giving employees much-needed protection while saving the employer money. Unfortunately, in practice it can be very difficult for a worker to collect workers compensation benefits. Disagreements over the extent of an injury and whether the injury occurred while on the job are all too frequent.

For independent contractors, the issue is even murkier. A significant percentage of workers are now independent contractors, and the number of independent contractors in the workforce is only expected to increase. These workers may not have any coverage under workers' compensation.

Independent contractor or misclassified employee?

An independent contractor is not eligible for workers' compensation. Independent contractors have significant freedom and often work on only one project for the business paying them. As such, the law does not want to burden a hiring business by forcing it to pay for workers' compensation. Unfortunately, however, many employers are simply classifying employees as independent contractors in an attempt to save money - despite circumstances that more closely resemble an employer/employee relationship.

Whether an injured worker was an employee or independent contractor depends on the circumstances. For example, a recent case decided by the North Carolina Court of Appeals held that a taxi company could classify a driver as an independent contractor for purposes of workers' compensation. The case arose when the North Carolina Industrial Commission found that a taxi driver was an employee eligible for workers comp benefits. In its decision, the Commission found that the driver did not own a taxi prior to working, the driver used a company-issued cellphone, and that the work was "necessary and integral" part of the business.

However, the Court of Appeals overturned that decision, holding that because the driver was paid a flat franchise fee, as opposed to wages, and was not required to work a certain amount of hours or set schedule, that he was an independent contractor. Thus the driver was not eligible for workers' compensation.

The case, Ademovic v. Taxi USA, LLC, was decided in December; it is just one illustration of the issues a court will consider when determining whether an employer hired an employee or independent contractor when considering workers' compensation eligibility. If your claim is denied because the employer claims that you are an "independent contractor," don't just take their word for it. Contact us and we can provide you with an unbiased legal analysis and opinion. If you are an employee in spite of the label, we can help you get the benefits to which you are entitled.

Options for injured workers

Injured workers do have legal options available. However, the odds can sometimes seem stacked against injured workers, and only becoming more so. Still, while an initial application for workers' compensation may have been denied, that does not have to be the end of the matter. We always fight these denials for our clients, and we have a good track record of winning in court at the Industrial Commission. In addition, workers ineligible for workers compensation may have the right to file a personal injury lawsuit against third parties. Finally, disabled workers may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.

At the Bollinger Law Firm, we have been helping injured workers solve these problems for many years. We offer free consultations to help you understand your legal rights and options in the aftermath of a serious work injury. Contact us today for more information!

Keywords: Workers compensation, independent contractor, denied claim.