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Worker an employee, injuries compensable: Court

Posted On: Nov. 6, 2019 12:18 PM CST

North Carolina

Injuries sustained by a worker who fractured his spine from a scaffolding fall are compensable, an appellate court held Tuesday.

In Macias v. BSI Associates Inc., a three-judge panel of the North Carolina Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a North Carolina Industrial Commission decision holding that the injured man was an employee, not an independent contractor, and therefore entitled to workers compensation.

Jorge Macias worked for Wake Forest, North Carolina-based BSI Associates Inc., doing business as Carolina Chimney, from February 2008 until he suffered an on-the-job accident on Feb. 29, 2013. The company and Mr. Macias settled the claim and entered into an agreement that precluded Mr. Macias from working for Carolina Chimney in the future. In March 2014, the company’s owner proposed Mr. Macias start his own company, purchase the necessary insurance, and work for Carolina Chimney as an independent contractor. He obtained insurance, which indicated that he had zero employees and excluded himself from coverage.

On March 21, 2014, Mr. Macias resumed near-identical job duties as he had as an employee of Carolina Chimney, and was given keys to the office, credit cards to purchase supplies, the same job title, and directions to report to the office for work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to court documents. The company also furnished Mr. Macias with vehicles, tools, equipment and supplies, business cards, Carolina Chimney Crew clothing, and provided specific instructions on where he was to work and what work he was to perform each day, he testified in the lawsuit.

On April 26, 2016, Mr. Macias fell from a scaffold and injured his spine. BSI Associates, Carolina Chimney and the company’s insurers denied his workers compensation claim contending there was no evidence of an employer-employee relationship. The industrial commission’s deputy commissioner concluded that Mr. Macias was an employee, and the full commission affirmed the decision, unanimously rejecting Carolina Chimney’s argument that Mr. Macias was an independent contractor. The commission also awarded Mr. Macias attorney’s fees.

The company appealed the decision, but the appellate court affirmed the commission’s ruling regarding the compensability of Mr. Macias’ injury. Although Carolina Chimney argued that because the company and Mr. Macias had an oral contract and Mr. Macias had his own insurance policy and filed tax documents indicating that he was an independent contractor, the appellate court found that this was not “particularly relevant” since the policy was procured at the request of Carolina Chimney and noted that there is “no legal authority holding that a worker's annual tax returns are a factor in deciding whether he is an independent contractor or an employee.”

The court also found that Mr. Macias’ evidence — including check stubs, Carolina Chimney-branded work clothing, and text messages that illustrated the control the company had over him — to be credible and supported the commission’s conclusion that Mr. Macias was an employee.

The appellate court did, however, vacate the award of attorney’s fees, holding that the commission lacked the jurisdiction to enter that award.