The Worker’s Compensation Act provides employees who have sustained work-related injuries with medical treatment and limited compensation without regard to the negligence of the employer. N.J.S.A. 34:15-7. As a trade-off for this coverage, however, the employer is given immunity from all other lawsuits relating to the work-related injury. The benefits of the Worker’s Compensation Act apply only to employees and not independent contractors. A threshold determination must thus be made as to whether the worker was an employee or an independent contractor.
In 2008, an elderly man accidently drove his car into his live-in caretaker, pinned her against the wall, severed her leg below the knee and caused the caretaker fatal injuries. The decedent caretaker’s estate filed a wrongful death action against the elderly man, alleging that the death was the result of negligence. The elderly man conceded negligence but asserted that the decedent was his employee and that the lawsuit was thus barred under the Worker’s Compensation Act. The decedent caretaker did not file a workers’ compensation petition and maintained that the she was an independent contractor and not an employee.
Courts have traditionally used two tests to distinguish employees from independent contractors under the Worker’s Compensation Act. These are the “control test,” which considers the extent of the employer’s right to control the work of the employee, and the “relative nature of the work test,” which requires a court to examine the extent of economic dependence on the employer by the employee. In the case involving the elderly man and caretaker the New Jersey Supreme Court applied a hybrid test that combined questions of the employer’s control as well as the economic conditions of the employment.
Estate of Myroslava Kotsovska v. Saul Liebman