Recently in Virginia, a North Carolina truck driver was fatally struck on I-95 after he stopped by the side of the highway to check his rig.
The question of whether his surviving family will be able to collect workers’ compensation benefits may depend on one question: His status as a worker.
In most workers’ compensation cases, an employer’s assertion that a worker is not an “employee” but rather an “independent contractor” is one that can be fatal to a claim for workers’ compensation benefits.
But it’s important to note that just because a company labels a worker that way doesn’t necessarily make it true in the legal sense.
Our Asheville workers’ compensation attorneys know it is incredibly common for truck carriers to slap drivers with a label of “independent contractor,” when in fact, everything else about the way they are treated indicates the driver is an employee.
Because the trucking industry is so notorious for this, the state legislature actually wrote in a provision of the law that protects truck drivers, regardless of their official status. N.C. General Statute 97-19.1 holds that any person or carrier who contracts with a driver or sub-contractor for trucking services, that contractor will be legally considered an employer and liable to cover the trucker’s injuries in the event of a crash – assuming neither the driver nor sub-contractor have their own workers’ compensation coverage.
The statute is applicable to interstate and intrastate trucking operations.
The only real way for trucking contractors to avoid liability under this provision is to ensure the independent contractor has workers’ compensation that covers himself, his workers and subcontractors. Alternatively, the contractor may choose to cover the subcontractors and subcontractor workers with a blanket workers’ workers’ compensation policy.
It’s worth noting that a trucking contractor (unlike almost any other contractor) is allowed to withhold payment to subcontractor in the amount necessary to reimburse for blanket workers’ compensation coverage if the subcontractor hasn’t covered himself or his workers.
Trucking operations that have been in the industry a long time are familiar with loopholes and ways to avoid or shift the risk associated with on-the-job injuries. One common tactic is to require drivers to buy their own “accident insurance.” In many ways, this looks like workers’ compensation coverage, as it does cover medical and disability benefits in the event of injury. However, it only does so for a short period of time – far less than what a worker is entitled to receive under workers’ compensation.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports there are approximately 17 deaths and 7 non-fatal work injuries for every 100,000 workers in the transportation business. That means truckers suffer thousands of work-related injuries and dozens of deaths each year. In 2011 alone, there were 6,400 tractor trailer crashes in North Carolina.
Truckers who have questions regarding adequate compensation should contact our offices for a free consultation with our knowledgeable attorneys.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
N.C. truck driver fatally struck on I-95 shoulder in Greensville, Oct. 13, 2014, Richmond Times-D atch
More Blog Entries
Marta v. Reid: On Penalties for the Late Payment of Workers’ Compensation Benefits, Oct. 24, 2014, Asheville Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog