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Employee status to be resolved by judge, not jury: Alaska high court

Posted On: May. 2, 2023 10:43 AM CST


The Supreme Court of Alaska reversed a lower court ruling that found a deceased worker’s employee status should be determined by a jury and not prior to trial.

The high court on Friday said a superior court judge wrongly determined a jury should decide whether Nicholson Tinker was an employee or an independent contractor when he was killed by a collapsed retaining wall at a construction site.

Mr. Tinker’s estate sued Mark Welty, and his company, North Country Services, for wrongful death, arguing Mr. Tinker was an employee and that Mr. Welty was negligent in not carrying workers compensation insurance.  

The defendants argued Mr. Tinker was an independent contractor who was not eligible for workers comp.  

During litigation, the estate attempted to have the employee status issue resolved ahead of trial, but the superior court agreed with the defendants that the matter should be left to the jury.

The trial court agreed with the defendants and the estate appealed.

The Supreme Court determined a judge, not a jury, should decide the issue of employee status ahead of trial because the state’s comp law doesn’t provide a right to a jury trial.

“We agree with the Estate that prompt resolution of employee status is important because of its possible effect on such basic issues as the type of action a party can bring or the burden of proof for negligence,” the high court wrote.