Auto-Owners Insurance Co. v. All Star Lawn – Worker Title Central to Injury Claim

If you are injured on the job in South Carolina, you are almost certainly entitled to compensation. However, the type of compensation you may reasonably pursue is going to depend on your employment classification. Specifically – are you an employee or an independent contractor? worksign.jpg

Employees hurt at work are entitled to receive workers’ compensation benefits through their employer’s insurer. However, this is their exclusive remedy. They cannot then turn around and sue the company for personal injury damages, though there might be an option for a third-party lawsuit in certain situations. Meanwhile, an independent contractor doesn’t have the option to collect workers’ compensation. He or she can, however, file a personal injury lawsuit against the employer and/or general liability insurer.

There are pros and cons to each classification, depending on your circumstance. But the most important thing to remember is that just because your employer classifies you a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean the courts will agree.

Our Rock Hill workers’ compensation attorneys know employers and insurers are interested in keeping their own costs down however they can. This means they may slap you with a label that doesn’t fit the professional relationship you have with the firm. While workers’ compensation benefits are no-fault and require a much lower threshold of proof in order to collect, it may be to your benefit to be deemed an independent contractor. You would have to show negligence in a personal injury case against the employer, but the amount of damages would likely be much higher. A personal injury attorney can help you thoroughly explore your options.

In the recent case of Auto-Owners Insurance Co. v. All Star Lawn Specialists Plus, Inc., the Michigan Supreme Court was tasked with determining whether an injured laborer of a lawn maintenance crew was in fact an employee or a contractor.

According to court records, he was injured when a vacuum machine which he was using to load leaves fell on top of him.

As an employee, he would be able to collect workers’ compensation benefits for the injury. However as an independent contractor, he stood to collect on both the company’s general liability insurance policy and the no-fault commercial auto insurance the company held.

He filed a lawsuit arguing the employer was negligent, and he was an independent contractor. The company/owner agreed with him on independent contractor status, but that assertion was rejected by the insurance company.

The trial court denied insurer’s motion for summary judgment, and instead granted summary judgment in favor of the worker on his label as an independent contractor. On appeal, the appellate panel affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding the worker was an independent contractor. A special panel was then convened, and in a split 4-3 decision, the appellate panel reversed. However upon review, the Michigan Supreme Court found the case law upon which the original decision was based was not flawed, and thus the employee was appropriately given the title of independent contractor.

In South Carolina, there is no statute defining “independent contractor.” However, courts apply a four-factor test in making the determination. These are:

  • Direct evidence of the right to or exercise of control
  • Method of payment
  • Furnishing of equipment
  • Right to fire

If you have concerns about your workers’ compensation claim, call us today.

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

Additional Resources:
Auto-Owners Insurance Co. v. All Star Lawn Specialists Plus, Inc., Nov. 25, 2014, Michigan Suprem Court

More Blog Entries
Cuomo v. Crane Co. – Asbestos Exposure Work Injury Claim, Nov. 30, 2014, Rock Hill Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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