The 26 year old plaintiff claimed in the lawsuit that the owner of an apartment building where the plaintiff sometimes resided asked him to paint portions of an exterior stairway. The landlord gave him the paint and a ladder and when the plaintiff began painting, the ladder slipped and he fell 30 feet down on to the parking lot.
In the fall the man fractured his heels, his lower back and his right wrist. He was in the hospital for 5 days, had three surgeries and was left with hardware in both his heels and his wrist. His medical bills were over $110,000.
The plaintiff sued the building owner under a Massachusetts statute that allows employees to sue employers for personal injuries and pain and suffering when the employer doesn’t carry workers’ compensation insurance. In this case, the injured tenant claimed that the building owner was acting as an employer and that he should have had a policy of workers’ compensation covering the painting work he was doing.
According to a report in the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, both sides painted very different stories about the nature of their relationship. The plaintiff claimed it was an ongoing relationship whereby the building owner would pay him cash for odd jobs around the property.
In contrast, the owner denied ever paying the plaintiff for anything. Instead, he claimed he hired a separate independent contractor – a tenant who was given free rent for work performed – to complete all routine maintenance around the property, On the date of this accident, the owner said that the independent contractor tenant asked the injured plaintiff to help him paint. During the trial, the contractor corroborated the landlord’s claims.
The jury was asked to weigh in on the various factors to determine the injured plaintiff’s employment status with the building owner.
In Massachusetts, business owners who maintain a certain level of control over workers, cannot later claim that the worker is an independent contractor for whom the employer doesn’t have to buy workers’ compensation insurance or pay employment taxes. There is a three-part test in the Commonwealth of which business owners (including commercial landlords) should be aware when they try to classify certain workers as independent contractors.
The decision demonstrates how important it is for commercial landlords to carry workers compensation insurance that will cover tenants who perform services for them.
If you are a tenant who has been injured while doing work for your landlord and would like to learn more about whether or not you have a claim for damages, contact us for more information.
Source: Mass. Lawyers Weekly (Mar. 23, 2015)