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Worker due comp benefits for partial leg amputation in crash

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A truck driver whose leg was partially amputated after he sustained injuries in a crash was an employee, not an independent contractor, and is entitled to workers compensation benefits, an Illinois appellate court has ruled.

Truck driver Radomir Cvetkovski transported machinery and metal products for Hammond, Indiana-based Steel & Machinery Transportation Inc. since March 2005, court records show.

On Friday June 10, 2005, he was dispatched to transport a shipment from Indiana to Wisconsin, according to records. After picking up the load, he drove home for the weekend with plans to resume delivery on Monday, June 13, 2005.

Records show that while driving in Illinois on Monday, Mr. Cvetkovski was involved in a motor vehicle accident. As a result, his left leg was amputated below the knee.

In October 2005, he filed an application for adjustment of claim with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, seeking workers comp benefits for his injury, according to records.

According to an agreement with Steel & Machinery, Mr. Cvetkovski was classified as an independent contractor, records show. He was to drive his own semitractor-trailer and be responsible for the cost of permits and fuel, among other things.

Mr. Cvetkovski testified at the arbitration hearing in late 2011, records show.

Prior to driving for Steel & Machinery, Mr. Cvetkovski said he completed an application and underwent a medical examination and a drug test, according to records. He said he drove exclusively for the company between the date he was hired and the date of the accident.

Mr. Cvetkovski also testified that he was not required to wear a uniform, but that he was paid on a weekly basis by company checks. He said it wasn’t up to him to choose which loads he wanted to transport and that he would never have refused a load, records show.

Steel & Machinery’s director of safety, one of the company’s witnesses at the hearing, said the company “exercised no control over the type of fuel claimant purchased or where he parked” and that he wasn’t provided with any tools or equipment, according to records. The director of safety also testified that “each driver is responsible for obtaining his or her own bobtail insurance and workers compensation coverage.”

The arbitrator for the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission awarded workers comp benefits to Mr. Cvetkovski, records show. The arbitrator determined that the record “contained some evidence indicative of an independent contractor status,” but that Mr. Cvetkovski established he was an employee on the date of the accident.

Employment status up to commission

On appeal, Steel & Machinery argued that the commission’s finding went “against the manifest weight of the evidence,” according to records.

However, Illinois’ 1st District Appellate Court on Friday affirmed the commission’s decision 4-1, stating that “a conclusion opposite that of the commission is not clearly apparent.”

The appellate court ruled that, while Mr. Cvetkovski owned the semitractor-trailer he used to transport loads for Steel & Machinery, the control the company had over the equipment is “indicative of an employment relationship.”

Despite Steel & Machinery witnesses testifying that Mr. Cvetkovski was free to transport goods for other companies, it is undisputed that he did not, according to the ruling. Furthermore, evidence shows that Mr. Cvetkovski’s ability to transport loads for another company was subject to a number of conditions imposed by Steel & Machinery.

“Other indicia of control evincing an employment relationship include” completing an application and undergoing a medical examination and a drug test, records show.

“There are factors that weigh both in favor of and against a finding that (Mr. Cvetkovski) was an employee,” but it was up to the commission to determine his employment status, the ruling states.

According to the dissenting opinion, “under our court’s current interpretation of the law, it has become virtually impossible for a trucking company and an independent driver/lessor to structure their relationship in a way that reliably precludes a finding of an employment relationship.”