Workers Compensation

Law Talk

Sam K. Abdulaziz
Attorney at Law

This is a case where the court had to determine whether a worker was an independent contractor or one covered by workers' compensation. The short answer was that the worker was an independent contractor and not an employee.

Jose Luis Lara was hired to prune bushes for a diner that leases space from a hotel. While performing his duties, he suffered injuries to his head, lower back, neck, right shoulder, arm, and thumb when he fell from the roof of the hotel.

During the hearing, Lara testified that he had been gardening, painting, pipe fixing and doing graffiti removal for twenty-five years. He charges by the hour. Sometimes he "contracts" for the entire day. He also brings his own equipment with him. Lara also pays his own taxes. The diner did not take out any taxes when they paid him.

The manager's wife of the diner arranged for Lara to do gardening work at the diner on two separate occasions and at separate times. After the first occasion there was no indication as to whether he would be asked back to perform more work. The second time he went to the diner, was about a year after the first time he performed work for them. Lara was asked to trim bushes along the roofline, which was when he fell from the roof.

Lara filed a workers' compensation claim. The Workers' Compensation Judge found that Lara was employed by the diner as a gardener and was injured in the course of employment. The diner filed a Petition for Reconsideration of the findings. The Board granted reconsideration and found that although he was injured while attempting to prune bushes for the benefit of others at the diner, Lara was an independent contractor and thus not entitled to workers' compensation. Lara had testified that he handled his own taxes, and contracted with numerous individuals to perform specific jobs. There was no evidence that the diner had the power to control the details in pruning the bushes or the method by which Lara performed any of the tasks. Therefore, Lara was an independent contractor.