Ademovic v. Taxi USA – Professional Driver Work Injuries in North Carolina

North Carolina has a significant number of professional commercial drivers. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the number of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers in the state is about 48,000, ranking it 10th in the nation for the most truck drivers.
Often, these workers face an increased risk for violence. They tend to work solo, often and night, and for commercial passenger drivers, they frequently come in contact with the public.

While any injuries arising out of or in the course of work may fall under the umbrella of workers’ compensation benefits, a growing number of employers are getting around this by establishing a system whereby workers are not “employees,” but rather “independent contractors.” The latter are not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. These workers might have the option to sue the employer, but they’d have to prove negligence. That can be tough in a case of intentional violence by a third-party away from a stationary work site.

Our experienced Asheville workers’ compensation lawyers know there may be an option to seek coverage through a company’s commercial general liability policies, but don’t expect the company or insurer will concede without a fight.

In the recent case of Ademovic v. Taxi USA, the North Carolina Court of Appeals was asked to determine whether a taxi driver injured by violence on the job was entitled to workers’ compensation coverage, despite the company arguing his status as an independent contractor. The North Carolina Industrial Commission determined driver was in fact an employee for coverage purposes. However, the appellate court reversed.

According to court records, claimant worked for a taxi company in Charlotte when he was shot in the face by a passenger. He survived the gunshot wound and later filed for workers’ compensation benefits. Defendant company asserted plaintiff was an independent contractor, and no employer-employee relationship existed at the time of the injury.

A deputy commissioner filed an opinion favoring defendant, pointing out the worker entered an agreement stating he was “self-employed” – specifically for purposes of workers’ compensation insurance. This alone wouldn’t have been enough upon which to base a conclusion, but the worker also owned his own cab and was responsible for the maintenance. He kept all fares earned, defendant did not take social security deductions from fares, and neither did defendant pay driver wages. Instead, plaintiff paid a weekly franchise fee of $200 to maintain operation of his cab under defendant’s operating license. He was free to take days off as he wished, and he had the choice of whether to accept his own fares or whether to use and accept calls from defendant’s dispatcher.

Plaintiff appealed to the full commission, which reversed that finding. The full commission found despite the contract, plaintiff only owned the cab for purposes of working with defendant (and defendant required it be painted yellow), defendant provided plaintiff with certain equipment in which to carry out his job (i.e, a phone, a credit card device, a taxi meter, logo decals, lights and a two-way radio) and most of his day-to-day work was derived from defendant – including the assignment from the customer who shot him after the driver took him to his destination.

On appeal, despite conceding several points favoring plaintiff, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ultimately reversed. The court found the commission erred in concluding plaintiff was an employee because its findings of fact do not support its conclusions of law.

The appellate court cited the eight factors to be considered in weighing whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor. Per those instructions, the worker was in fact an independent contractor.

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

Additional Resources:
Ademovic v. Taxi USA, Dec. 2, 2014, North Carolina Court of peal

More Blog Entries
Campos v. Daisy Construction Co. – Benefits for Injured Undocumented Workers, Nov. 25, 2014, Asheville Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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