Two insurers battle over "independent contractor" status of employee in vehicle
Dairyland Insurance Company and Amerisure were sent back to the trial court to dispute which of them is obligated to pay PIP benefits for a young man injured in a car wreck. The man was occupying a vehicle owned by his employer, Real-Trans, LLC when he was hurt. In typical fashion in this day and age, however, Real-Trans and its insurer hid behind a claim that Earnest Griffin, the employee, was an "independent contractor." As an independent contractor, Real-Trans would not owe him any of the normal statutory benefits, including workmen's compensation, and Real-Trans' insurer would not owe him No Fault PIP benefits.
Griffin's own personal insurer, Dairyland, paid his PIP benefits as required by law, but then sued Amerisure--the insurer of the vehicle--for repayment. The facts, as often happens in these cases, were somewhat contradictory and disputed, as the employer created a "gloss" of independence to insulate him from normal employment obligations. The owner of Real-Trans, Fatmir Shehu, admitted that he enjoyed the right to hire and fire Griffin, paid his wages, exercised control over the time and manner in which his duties were performed, and paid all expenses through a company credit card.
Griffin testified that he worked exclusively for Real-Trans and it was apparent that his job, cargo delivery, was an integral part of the Real-Trans business. Real-Trans provided the truck, which was painted with the Real-Trans logo and information.
Contradicting the above, "the parties classified their relationship as an independent contractor relationship" [meaning that Shehu's attorneys drafted such a document, which Griffin was required to sign]. According to Shehu, he allowed Griffin to determine his routes, and Griffin could take time off or refuse a load if he desired. [No pressure, we're sure....wonder if he ever did.] Shehu also claimed he took truck repair expenses out of Griffin's pay and did not withhold taxes or social security; instead he issued a 1099.
Based on the latter facts, the Court of Appeals overturned the trial judge's holding that Griffin was clearly an employee and not an independent contractor. The Court held that there were enough facts relating to independent contractor status to warrant a trial by the jury.