A Massachusetts Appeals Court has recently ruled that two employers can be held jointly responsible for an injured employee´s workers’ compensation benefits, despite them each having classified the worker as an independent contractor.
In Leo Whitman’s Case, No. 10-P-71, Sept. 6, 2011, the court affirmed an earlier decision by the Industrial Accident Reviewing Board within the Department of Industrial Accidents by ruling that the claimant was an employee, not an independent contractor, for both of the businesses he was working for at the time of his injury. Leo Whitman, a construction worker whose specialty was installing drywall, had been working for approximately three years for two redevelopers, Stephen Sarcia and John Citrano. Each purchased, refurbished, and resold delapidated residential properties. The two men also introduced Whitman to Anthony Pace, the owner of PPM, a redevelopment company that also hired Whitman to work on condominium residences.
During this time period, Whitman continued to work for Sarcia and Citrano, whom he thought of as partners, and from PPM. Whitman viewed them collectively as “a group” because of their continuous supply of full-time work for him, according to the court papers. Throughout 2004 and 2005, Whitman worked for PPM in addition to Sarcia and Citrano at 10 different building sites. According to court documents, Whitman thought of Sarcia and Citrano as partners and he thought of Sarcia, Citrano, and PPM, as “a group” because of their continuous supply of full-time work for him. At the rate of $250 per day for five to seven days per week, Whitman was given daily assignments and was paid weekly by checks addressed to him individually. The payments were his sole income and Whitman did not submit a bid or sign a contract related to his work.
On Dec. 20, 2006, while Whitman was working for both Sarcia and PPM on a project in Ipswich, Mass., a scaffold collapsed, and as a result Whitman fell approximately 16 feet. He had serious fractures in his left leg, had two surgeries and two plates implanted with multiple orthopedic screws. Whitman was completely debilitated for three months and has been partially disabled ever since the accident.
Whitman brought his claim for benefits as an employee of Sarcia and/or PPM; however, neither had statutory workers’ compensation coverage for him as they both named him as an independent contractor. The administrative judge concluded that Whitman was a covered employee of both entities. The judge described that the two entities were “a consortium for which [Whitman] worked exclusively during the two years prior to his industrial injury…Pace, Sarcia and Citran[o] worked cooperatively throughout the claimant’s tenure.” The employers disputed that they were joint employers by arguing that there was no evidence that they operated with common management, ownership, and financial controls. However, as noted by the appeals court, state law does not require that joint employers must be integrated or single by ownership, management, and finances. ‘Workers’ compensation law in Massachusetts allows separate entities to constitute joint employers,’ the court said.
If you or your loved one suffers from injuries due to a work accident, it is best advised that you contact an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer.
Mass. Court Rules on Joint Employers’ Responsibility for Workers’ Comp, Claims Journal, September 13, 2011
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