A terrifying workplace accident in Woodland may grab the attention of some of our San Diego readers this month, not because the victim is seeking compensation for his injuries but because the story brings up an important question: why do some workers qualify for workers' compensation benefits and others do not?
This is an important question, as many of our readers already know, especially when someone suffers a work-related injury. Most people just assume that their medical costs and lost wages will be covered by workers' compensation benefits. But in some cases, perhaps even in the Woodland case, a worker may find out that they do not qualify for benefits. Workers who find themselves in this position may seek legal counsel because the next best option, when it comes to obtaining compensation, may be in the form of civil litigation.
In the Woodland case, the man was working in a grain elevator when, without warning, a floor hatch was opened, which caused him to sink into the grain he was standing on. At one point, his head was covered up to his mouth while another worker tried to move the grain away from the man's face. The weight of the grain caused injury to his legs, torso, back and neck.
But because he was an employee of T & T Marketing Services, which had provided labor to the grain elevator owners, and not an employee of the grain elevator, the man may not have been eligible for workers' compensation. That's because, according to our state's Department of Industrial Relations, he might have been labeled as an independent contractor and not as an employee. It's because of this loophole that probably released the grain elevator company from liability, despite indications that it was negligent the day of the accident.
According to the Department of Industrial Relations, because the state does not have a set definition for the term "independent contractor," workers must hope for a favorable interpretation from the courts in order to receive compensation in future litigation. Without a working knowledge of state laws and your rights, it might be difficult to win a case, especially without help from a lawyer.
Sources: Courthouse News Service, "Horrifying Incident in a Grain Elevator," Barbara Wallace, April 6, 2014
State of California Department of Industrial Relations, "Independent contractor versus employee," Accessed April 10, 2014