One of the interesting things about the law is that it’s always changing or evolving. This is why we recommend that when you hire an attorney, you choose one who has a very narrow practice focus. It’s not easy to stay up with the latest case developments in multiple areas of law.
Recently the Illinois Appellate Court brought a ruling in favor of a trucker who had signed an agreement with his company that said he is an independent contractor. Some trucking companies are really dirty and in an effort to not pay taxes will mis-classify their actual employees as contractors. This also allows them to avoid paying workers’ compensation benefits. Well, only if you let them get away with it.
In the case, the court noted that the driver provided the equipment, but had to agree to use it for “the respondent’s exclusive control” during the duration of the agreement.
The driver was injured while making a delivery. He testified at trial that he got loads from a dispatcher who would call him every two hours to see what is going on. He said he wouldn’t dare refuse an assignment, couldn’t take loads for other companies and would get fined if a delivery was late.
The court found that the ownership of the equipment by the driver was in name only. Essentially they were trying to pull a fast one here. Beyond that the court noted that the company had the ability to control the driver and limit his activity. That’s the big test in determining if someone really is an independent contractor under Illinois Workers’ compensation law, does the company have the ability to control you. If they do, you are an employee no matter what you signed.
There were other factors which showed control such as a pre-employment physical, instructions to report accidents, advertisements for the company on the side of the truck, a requirement that the equipment be clean and the driver look “presentable” and a restriction on hours worked.
All of these little pieces added up to a finding in favor of the injured worker and it does seem that the court got it right.
The lesson is that you shouldn’t believe you don’t have a claim because the employer or the insurance company is telling you that you don’t and while they might get tricky, you can’t sign away your right to benefits under Illinois law.
We represent a lot of truckers and have fought this issue many times. A case like this is great because while the credibility of witnesses as to what’s true and what’s not will be important (for example, the company testified that this driver could refuse shifts and work for others), the analysis of what it takes to win the case is more clear.