How Owner/Operator Truckers Can Get Workers’ Compensation Benefits
Truckers, if you hurt yourself on the job, you’re going to need to know your rights.
Based on our experience, we know one of your questions will be whether you even qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. You might be surprised at the answer.
We get this question all the time: “I’m an owner/operator, and I hurt myself on my rig. Is it even worth trying to get workers’ compensation benefits from the company that hired me?”
It sure is. But you may need legal help.
The Law Might Be on Your Side
As an owner/operator, you are technically not a full-time employee of the trucking company that hired you. But that does not mean you are ineligible for workers’ compensation. The good news is that truckers are getting workers’ compensation benefits even though they are not a full-time employee of a trucking firm. True, you may have to go to court. But getting benefits is better than getting none. Here are a few examples from the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (IWCC):
Why a Contract Is Not Always the End of the Story
A trucker working for a transportation company hurt his back while trying to slide a set of tandem wheels on a semitrailer. The pain was so bad that he said it felt like someone had stabbed him with a knife. A physician performed surgery, but the trucker (let’s call him Joe) experienced recurring, serious pain in his right leg and knee cap. Joe filed for workers’ compensation to help pay for the cost of ongoing care. The transportation firm contested his claim because he was not an employee.
Now, here’s what’s really interesting about this case: Joe signed an independent contractor agreement with the trucking firm. Everything was in writing. Joe was free to work with another firm. A cut-and-dry case in favor of the trucking firm, right?
Not so fast. As it turns out, Joe never drove for another company during the time he was hauling freight. His permit and license plate were in the trucking company’s name. The company instructed Joe on what insurance to buy, required him to check in twice a day, tested him for drugs and alcohol three times a year, and his truck bore the company’s logo. The IWCC determined that the company maintained requisite control over Joe’s work for him to be considered an employee. The control exerted over Joe’s work overrode any contractual obligations. Joe won.
How a Trucker Got Justice
Now let’s look at the story of a truck driver we’ll call Don. He was delivering freight from Chicago to the East Coast for a transportation company when he slipped and fell on ice located in the refrigerated truck trailer, injuring his lower back. The injury was so painful that he required two surgeries and physical therapy, incurring a considerable expense. He filed for workers’ compensation benefits. The transportation company disputed his claim asserting that Don was an independent contractor.
Don owned his own truck. He paid for his own expenses. But the IWCC ruled that he was eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Why? Because the company treated him like an employee. For example, he hauled freight exclusively for the company, and it determined his delivery schedule, had the authority to discharge him at will and required him to pass a pre-employment drug test as a condition of their working relationship. The factors pointing to an employer-employee relationship held up and he won too.
The issue once again came down to control. The transportation company exerted so much control over the working relationship that in the eyes of the IWCC, Don was, for all intents and purposes, acting as an employee. The IWCC awarded him temporary total disability benefits, reasonable and necessary medical benefits, and permanent partial disability.
The lesson learned: the law is not always cut and dried. Had Joe and Don accepted their employer’s position that they were not an employee, they would never have received anything for their injuries. Fortunately for Joe and Don, they pressed their cases, and they won. So if you are injured on the job, don’t assume, “There’s no point in trying.”
But do get legal help. You need the resources and perspective of an attorney who understands the circumstances unique to truckers. We’ve definitely provided that kind of expertise for our clients in the trucking industry. For example, we recently helped a client who fell from his truck, injuring his neck and upper back. He was unable to return to work in his former occupation. After determining the reduction of his earning capacity, we negotiated a settlement of $325,000, which included funds allocated for future medical treatment should it ever be necessary.
Hurt on your rig? Get help now.
So Where’s The Justice? Right Here.
No obligation. Just good advice.