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Independent Contractor Gets Shock – Twice
by Ron Davis

Who is liable for compensating an independent contractor for injuries he suffers while working at a shopping center?

In Missouri, where such an injury recently occurred, the answer to that question is not so clear-cut. That’s because of workers’ compensation laws in that state that can be liberally interpreted to favor the injured party.

Details of that injury show that the independent contractor received an electric shock while installing special lighting for a tenant of the shopping center, Battlefield Mall in Springfield. He then fell from the ladder he was working on, and his fall caused him to hit his head on the floor and lose consciousness.

In addition to a concussion, he subsequently suffered from hearing loss and post-traumatic seizures. His medical expenses eventually totaled about $4,000, and he missed nearly a month of work. He then filed for workers’ compensation, listing the shopping center tenant as his "employer."

That claim was based on Missouri workers’ compensation laws that state that a contractor who performs work "which is an operation of the usual business" of his customer is an employee of that customer. As such, the customer is liable for the contractor’s on-the-job injuries or death.

The purpose of that law is to prevent employers from avoiding workers’ compensation liability by hiring independent contractors for work that would otherwise be performed by employees.

The Missouri Labor Commission ruled, however, that the contract of the injured contractor "did not contemplate that his work would be repeated over a short period of time," nor did his lighting project require permanent employees. Therefore, the Commission added, his work was not part of the usual business of the shopping center tenant.

On appeal, a Missouri appellate court agreed with the Commission and denied his workers’ compensation claim. (Holmes v. Interiors by Canova, 58 S.W.3d 915 [Mo.App. S.C. 2001])

Decision: November 2001
Published: March 2002



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