From Contractor To Conflict: Independent Contractors And On-The-Job Injuries – Personal Injury

Luna Ruth


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With the proliferation of mobile applications providing
ride-share, third-party food delivery, and even same-day handyman
services has come a national conversation about the use of
independent contractors to carry out core business functions. There
are numerous factors for businesses to consider in determining the
desirability of hiring independent contractors rather than
employees, with positives and negatives for businesses and
personnel alike. Among these factors, consideration should be given
to the types of disputes that can arise between an employer and its
workers and the litigation that can often result.

One type of dispute that becomes more onerous along the
independent contractor route is that which arises when a contractor
claims to have been injured on the job. In most states, an employee
who is injured at work must seek relief through workers’
compensation, not through traditional tort litigation. Because
independent contractors are not covered by workers’
compensation insurance, businesses are subject to state common law
duties owed to contractors and potential tort damages.

In Tennessee,1 for example, courts have held that a
business must exercise reasonable care to provide a reasonably safe
working environment for the independent contractors it hires. This
duty includes warning of or protecting against dangers that the
business knows may be involved in the relevant work that would
otherwise be unknown to the contractor. In this vein, a business
that assumes responsibility for providing tools or equipment to a
contractor must ensure those tools and equipment are in safe
working condition and are free from any known defects. However,
where a contractor holds himself out as being qualified to carry
out a particular task, the hiring party is relieved of any duty to
train or supervise that contractor. These duties and the standards
for imposing liability vary depending on the state in which a
contractor is operating.

The questions that inevitably arise about whether a business has
satisfied these duties to an injured contractor require a highly
fact-specific inquiry that can make resolving related claims
difficult. Businesses can and should head off these questions by
crafting and entering into appropriate independent contractor
agreements that address and confirm the pertinent details of the
work to be performed and the respective responsibilities of the
business and the contractor, including carrying of insurance and
payment of relevant taxes.

Our firm was recently involved in a case defending a logistics
provider against an independent contractor who was injured on the
job. When in-house counsel or other business services attorneys
collaborate with litigation counsel in crafting independent
contractor agreements on the front end, the combined familiarity
with all aspects of the business and knowledge of the potential
legal pitfalls can make all the difference down the line.

Footnote

1. Blair v. Campbell, 924 S.W.2d 75, 76 (Tenn.
1996).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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