Recently, in Cajiao v. Arga Transport, Inc., 30 Neb. App. 700, ___ N.W.2d___ (2022), the Nebraska Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling by Judge Thomas E. Stine, of the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court, regarding an injured workers’ status as an independent contractor. In this case, Cajiao (“Plaintiff”) was injured in a motor vehicle accident occurring on November 2, 2017, while driving a semi-tractor trailer leased by Arga Transport, Inc., (“Arga”). Plaintiff alleged he was an employee of Arga at the time of the alleged work event, while Arga alleged Plaintiff was an independent contractor, contracted to deliver to a load on the date of the alleged work event.
In the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court ruling by Judge Stine, Plaintiff was found to be an independent contractor and, thus, not eligible or entitled to any workers’ compensation benefits. The Nebraska courts have established ten (10) factors to be evaluated by the Court when determining an injured worker’s status as either an employee or independent contractor. Those factors can be summarized as follows:
- The extent of the control, which, by the agreement, the employer may exercise over the details of the work;
- Whether the one employed is engaged in a distinct occupation or business;
- The kind of occupation, with reference to whether, in the locality, the work is usually done under the direction of the employer or by a specialist without supervision;
- The skill required in the particular occupation;
- Whether the employer or the one employed supplies the instrumentalities, tools, and the place of work for the person doing the work;
- The length of time for which the one employed is engaged;
- The method of payment, whether by the time or the job;
- Whether the work is part of the regular business of the employer;
- Whether the parties believe they are creating an agency relationship; and
- Whether the employer is or is not in business.
In Cajiao, the Nebraska Court of Appeals stated that the extent of control is the chief factor in distinguishing an employment relationship from that of an independent contractor. The Court further explained, “it was important to distinguish control over the means and methods of the assignment from control over the end product of the work to be performed.” Cajiao v. Arga Transport, 30 Neb. App. at 705.
Plaintiff’s argument relied heavily upon the fact that he had to abide by federal regulations related to trucking and interstate commerce, and the lease agreement between Arga and its lessor provided Arga should have exclusive possession, control, and use of the equipment, and should assume responsibility for the operation of the equipment. Judge Stine found Plaintiff would have been required to follow all state and federal laws whether he was an employee or independent contractor. This has further been addressed by the Nebraska Supreme Court in Stephen vs. Celeary Vale Transport, Inc., 205 Neb. 12, 286 N.W.2d 420 (1979).
The ultimate question for the Cajiao Court was the degree of control Arga exercised over the method and manner of Plaintiff’s performance of the work. Although Arga exercised control over the result of the work, the evidence did not support a finding Arga exercised control over the actual operation of the truck or the manner in which Plaintiff completed the deliveries. Arga simply scheduled pick-up and drop-off locations, as well as delivery times; Plaintiff had the ability to accept or decline deliveries as he pleased and was able to select the route in which he traveled to complete the deliveries.
The Cajiao Court also found other factors supporting Plaintiff’s status as an independent contractor including, Plaintiff was engaged in a distinct occupation or business, it required a specialized skill to operate a semi-tractor truck, the length of time Plaintiff was engaged in work for Arga, and Plaintiff’s compensation, other than a discretionary bonus, was paid per mile via “Form 1099-MISC”. Plaintiff had worked as a semi-truck driver for at least 15 years prior to the accident and was engaged in exclusively contracted work with Arga for approximately six (6) months before the accident; however, Plaintiff had driven for various companies over the years and testified he tended to move back and forth between the companies, as he saw fit. Plaintiff also testified he was able to discontinue his work for one company, at any time, to move on and work for another company. Additionally, having a commercial driver’s license was found to be a specialized skill required to drive a semi-tractor.
In 2020, the Nebraska Supreme Court filed an opinion in Aboytes – Mosqueda v. LFA, Inc., which provided a substantial outline of all the factors to be taken into consideration when determining an injured worker’s status as an employee or independent contractor. Aboytes – Mosqueda v. LFA, Inc., 306 Neb. 277 944 N.W. 2 D 765 (2020). The Cajiao opinion focuses mainly on the nuances of a semi-tractor driver’s status as an employee or independent contractor and provides an important precedent moving forward for injured workers and employers, alike.
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