California Court of Appeals Rules on Trucking Accident Workers’ Compensation Case

truck drive sunsetA recent California Court of Appeals decision dealt with the issue of whether or not a trucking insurance policy precluded recovery for a driver who was injured during an on-duty accident.

In the case, Global Hawk Ins. Co. v. Le, 225 Cal.App.4th 593 (2014), a driver was sleeping in the truck when a second driver crashed it. The sleeping individual was severely injured, suffering a broken neck among other injuries, and he therefore sued the company for which he was working, and the company turned the case over to the insurance company to defend.

Prior to the accident, the company told the driver that he was not an employee, that he would not be eligible for workers’ compensation, that he would be paid a lump sum for the trip, and that no deductions would be made from his pay. They also claimed that he was not entitled to pay, since he did not “complete” the trip in its entirety.

The insurance company claimed that it did not have to compensate the driver for his injuries, since he was considered an employee for the purposes of coverage, and the policy explicitly excluded coverage for employees, since the terms assumed that such individuals would be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The insurance company moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted, by resorting to the definition of an employee found in federal regulations, which were enacted for the benefit of the public and not explicitly mentioned in the insurance policy.

Thus, on appeal, the issue was whether the driver’s injuries were excluded from coverage under the insurance policy because he was an employee at the time of the accident.

Among other relevant decisions, the court of appeals discussed a relevant landmark employment case, which dealt with migrant workers. In that case, the California Supreme Court engaged in an exhaustive discussion of the differences between what constitutes an employee versus an independent contractor.

In this case, the court of appeals noted, the trial court did not engage in a discussion of the relevant California law considerations, but instead it discussed some federal regulations related to the trucking industry. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court’s approach was incorrect, that California law should have governed, and that the application of the relevant California law considerations raises triable issues of material fact regarding the exclusions. There should have been a discussion of the relevant factors under California law that control whether an individual is to be deemed an employee or independent contractor.

There was uncontroverted evidence that the policy in this case did not contain the federal regulatory endorsement, nor did it contain an exclusion for an independent contractor. However, the insurance company later claimed that the policy did contain the relevant endorsement, since it was required by law. That endorsement essentially states that all drivers are employees, which if true would thus preclude recovery for the injured driver in this case.

Thus, the court found that summary judgment was reached improperly, and it reversed the trial court’s decision to grant it. Presumably, the case was remanded for further proceedings.

A workplace injury can happen anywhere.  A construction worker can fall off a ladder, a teacher can slip in a hallway, or any number of other work-related accidents can happen.  Often, these injuries can lead an employee to miss work and lose wages, on top of accumulating medical bills that can amount to thousands of dollars. The California workers’ compensation lawyers at Sharifi Firm, PLC can help you navigate the often confusing world of filing a workers’ compensation claim.  We are here to answer any questions that you have.

More Blog Posts:

California Court of Appeals Rules in Unsafe Intersection Case, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, published April 30, 2015

Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of Los Angeles Doctor in Malpractice Decision, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, published April 28, 2015

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