Who Is Liable When Independent Contractors Get Hurt on the Job?
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Although most employees can rely on workers’ compensation benefits to cover them if they suffer on-the-job injuries, those benefits don’t apply to everyone.
Independent contract work is becoming increasingly common, and in the gig economy, workers often need access to basic benefits. If you are an independent contractor and were hurt during your work, you may be expecting help from the person who hired you. Unfortunately, that help may never come because you're not technically an employee at the end of the day.
As a result, you may need to consult an experienced attorney to explore your options for recovery. Luckily, our Orange County workers' comp attorney team is up to the task. This article will explain everything you need to know about independent contractors’ rights, including what happens when they get hurt on the job.
Employees vs. Independent Contractors
Regarding employment status, independent contractors and employees are drastically different entities—a reality reflected in the disparity of their benefits. The most notable difference is that under California law, employees are entitled to workers’ compensation, and independent contractors are not.
Practically every employer in California is required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. This special insurance pays benefits to employees who are injured on the job to help finance their recovery and typically covers losses like the cost of some medical care, a portion of lost wages, and rehabilitation. In tragic cases involving a worker’s death, workers’ comp may also make payments to surviving family members.
On the other hand, independent contractors aren’t afforded the same benefits because they aren’t technically employees. Instead, they are mercenaries of sorts, free to work with whomever they choose, and as such, they aren’t included in a company’s workers’ compensation policy. Examples of independent contractors may consist of rideshare drivers, freelance writers, graphic designers, bookkeepers, and other trade specialists.
Given that these workers are free to choose with whom, how, and when they conduct their work, it may seem reasonable that they aren’t afforded the same injury benefits. But what happens when they suffer work-related injuries? Who is there to help them get back on their feet?
In most cases, the answer is no one, which is why work injuries can devastate workers in the gig economy. However, there are exceptions.
When Can Independent Contractors Sue for Injury in California?
Depending on the specific case details, an independent contractor may be able to secure compensation for their injuries. For example, if an employer miscategorizes a worker as an independent contractor instead of a regular employee, they may be liable for that worker’s on-the-job injuries.
It’s important to note that a worker’s status is not decided by a business or organization but rather by the roles and responsibilities given to that worker. As a result, there may be some discrepancy between a worker and their company regarding that worker’s status. That’s why it’s essential to consult an experienced work injury attorney about your case.
Personal Injury Claims
When an independent contractor has not been misclassified and is ineligible to file a workers’ comp claim, they may still be able to pursue compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. To secure a settlement, an independent contractor must prove that the at-fault party acted negligently. Although the burden of proof will be higher in a civil claim, so will the potential awards—a worthwhile payoff in cases involving clear negligence.
To work legally in some locations, some contractors must carry their own insurance, including certain commercial drivers, electricians, handymen, and repair specialists. In the event of a work injury, their policies should cover some or all of their damages and the losses suffered by other parties. These policies can provide the necessary compensation for recovery and shield them from lawsuits from other parties.
However, it’s essential to understand that just because an independent contractor has an insurance policy doesn’t necessarily mean the insurance company will pay a fair settlement. That’s why having a work injury attorney negotiate with an insurer on your behalf is always a good idea.
Types of Recoverable Compensation
Once you and your lawyer determine who is liable for your injuries and your best option to move forward, you may be due compensation for your injuries. Your compensation should cover the economic and non-economic damages you suffered from the accident.
Whereas economic damages are intended to cover your financial losses, such as medical bills, lost wages, and treatment costs, non-economic damages refer to intangible losses that evade a dollar amount. Non-economic damages, also called intangible losses, may include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, scarring, and more.
In rare cases, a court may also award punitive damages to the plaintiff. In contrast to economic and non-economic damages meant to compensate an injury victim for their losses, punitive damages exist to punish the defendant. They are typically reserved for cases where the defendant’s actions are particularly egregious, involving gross negligence or malice.