South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Claim Successful for “Independent Contractor”

The recent case of Shatto v. McLeod Regional Medical Center, reviewed by the South Carolina Supreme Court, is a testament to the fact that independent contractors can successfully file a Spartanburg workers’ compensation claim.
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What is required is to prove the worker was not an independent contractor after all, but rather an employee – no matter what the actual job title stated or suggested.

Under South Carolina law, workers’ compensation benefits can’t be collected by someone working as an independent contractor (McLeod v. Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co.). The problem, as outlined in a recent compliance report by the state’s Workers’ Compensation Advisory Committee, is that far too many companies try to cheat the system by improperly classifying workers.

Unfortunately, when work injuries occur, the burden of proof on this matter lies with the workers. Some factors the court may consider when weighing this issue:

  • The control the company had to direct the work;
  • Whether the company significantly controlled economic aspects of the workers’ job;
  • The type of relationship, i.e., whether employee benefits were involved, whether there was a permanency to the relationship and whether there was a written contract.

All of these are subject to interpretation by the court.

In the Shatto case, the plaintiff was a certified nurse anesthetist with some 20 years of experience. Most of those years were spent in Pennsylvania, though she did work in North Carolina for about five years before moving to South Carolina and accepting several short-term nursing jobs.

The most recent was through a nurse staffing agency, which placed her at a regional medical center in Florence. Although she lacked an express contract of employment with the hospital, she had a contract with the nurse staffing agency, which in turn had a contract with the hospital.

One day while at work, she was aiding a patient when she fell and was injured. Shortly thereafter, she was released from her employment.

She filed a workers’ compensation claim with the staffing agency, as well as with the hospital. The staffing agency issued a general denial. The hospital initially conceded she was a hospital employee, but later reversed that stance. The two claims were consolidated into one, and a single commissioner found that she was indeed an employee of the hospital and her claims were therefore compensable.

The hospital appealed this decision, but the appellate panel affirmed this ruling. Then the hospital appealed to the court of appeals, which reversed the commission’s findings, ruling that the nurse was an independent contractor. The case was remanded back to the lower court to determine her claim against the staffing company.

Then the state supreme court issued a review of the appellate court’s ruling. In its opinion, the court stated that the hospital’s control of the nurse weighed heavily in favor of an employment relationship. For example, upon receiving her assignment, she signed a series of documents that were contained in a “new employee packet.” In these records, she was labeled an “employee at-will” and a “temporary employee.”

The company also controlled numerous details of her employment, including where she could park, how she could carry out her duties each day, what she was to wear and the fact that she reported to a supervisor throughout the day.

In the end, these factors combined provided enough evidence to support an employee-employer relationship, such the worker here was entitled to seek workers’ compensation benefits from the hospital.

If you have been injured at work in Spartanburg, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Shatto v. McLeod Regional Medical Center, Dec. 18, 2013, South Carolina Suprem Court

More Blog Entries
Misclassification: North Carolina Proposes New Penalties for Employers, June 16, 2013, Spartanburg Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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