Massachusetts Courts Discuss Independent Contractors Versus Employees

The Massachusetts Workers Compensation Act (the Act) provides that employees injured at work can recoup workers’ compensation benefits, but are barred from pursuing tort claims against their employers for workplace harm. As such, whether a party is able to pursue negligence claims against the entity they work for depends on whether they are an independent contractor or employee, as shown in a recent Massachusetts ruling. If you sustained injuries at work, it is wise to confer with a Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney regarding your rights.

History of the Case

It is reported that the plaintiff, was injured while working on a roofing project for the defendant, a subcontractor. He subsequently filed a lawsuit against the defendant, asserting a negligence claim. The defendant moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion, ruling that the plaintiff could not establish independent contractor status, which would allow him to bring a negligence action without being barred by workers’ compensation exclusivity. The plaintiff appealed.

Independent Contractor Versus Employee in Workers’ Compensation Cases

On appeal, the court’s review of the evidence indicates that there were conflicting allegations regarding the plaintiff’s status as an independent contractor or an employee, and therefore, the entry of summary judgment was not appropriate.

Determining whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor relies on established criteria, such as control over the work schedule, supervision, provision of tools, and control of results. The motion judge thoroughly reviewed the evidence and the conditions under which the plaintiff performed his work, but the characterization of the facts as undisputed and the determination of the plaintiff’s work status as a matter of law are not convincing. The question of employment status is typically a factual matter for the administrative judge and the reviewing board unless there is an error of law.

The court noted that there was also a dispute regarding whether the plaintiff’s acceptance of workers’ compensation payment was pursuant to independent contractor status or employee status It noted that the resolution of this factual issue, along with others discussed above, is within the realm of the finder of fact. Given the conflicting facts presented in this case, the court declined to express an opinion on the ultimate resolution of the matter. It held, however, that the existence of disputed facts prevents the entry of summary judgment. As such, it reversed the trial court ruling.

Talk to Capable Massachusetts Attorney

Only certain parties can recover benefits under the Act, but recovering such benefits typically precludes them from seeking damages in tort. If you suffered injuries while working, it is wise to talk to an attorney about your options. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is a capable Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney who can assess the facts of your case and aid you in seeking the best outcome possible. You can reach Mr. Meehan to set up a conference by using the form online or by calling him at 508-822-6600.