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Court affirms denial of benefits to construction worker

Virginia construction worker

The Supreme Court of Virginia on Thursday affirmed an earlier ruling that denied workers compensation benefits to a worker injured while rehabbing a historic school building, deciding the man was hired by an unlicensed contractor and was not an employee of the nonprofit that was renovating the building.

The Harvey School Historical Society was organizing renovation work on the Harvey Colored School, a small building where African-American students in Pittsylvania County were educated from about the 1880s to the mid-1900s, when it drafted a work agreement in 2012 with an unlicensed contractor to relocate and renovate the school, according to documents in Charlie Jeffreys v. The Uninsured Employer’s Fund, filed in Richmond.

Seeking tax-exempt status, the historical society informally became an auxiliary of the Mount Lebanon Missionary Baptist Church. The church, meanwhile, provided no financial support to the historical society, did not exercise control over it, and the two entities maintained separate bank accounts, according to documents.

The contractor working on the school eventually hired Charlie Jeffreys, who was “badly injured” when a beam fell from the roof of the school building and struck him on the neck. He filed a claim for workers compensation benefits against the historical society, the church and the woman overseeing the nonprofit, but not against the contractor. Because neither had workers comp insurance, the Uninsured Employer's Fund was also named in the claim.

A deputy commissioner with the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission agreed that Mr. Jeffreys “was the direct employee of the Historical Society as well as (the woman in charge), who was acting as the Historical Society's agent,” and that the historical society was in turn “a part of the Church, making the Church an employer of Jeffreys as well,” documents state.

The full commission disagreed in part, holding that (the woman) was not Mr. Jeffreys' direct employer because she “had lacked any meaningful control over his work or over how he performed it.” However, the commission affirmed the deputy commissioner's award against the church “because no party had appealed that decision,” according to documents.

A state Court of Appeals later affirmed the commission's finding that (the woman) was not Mr. Jeffreys' direct employer, reversed the commission's finding that (The Uninsured Employer’s Fund) had waived its argument regarding the church and the historical society, and remanded the case for further factfinding.

Following deliberations on whether Mr. Jeffreys was an employee of the church and nonprofit, the commission and later the appeals court both ruled that he was not an employee, finding that neither entity is a “construction-related” organization.

“As the Court of Appeals correctly held, the Commission applied the correct legal standard and acted within its factfinding discretion when it concluded that Jeffreys had failed to prove that the Church or its Historical Society were his statutory employers,” the latest ruling states.




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