Georgia Court Addresses Independent Contractors and Employer Liability in Recent Case

Recently, a Georgia appellate court issued an opinion in a lawsuit stemming from injuries a man suffered while working on a homeowner’s property. According to the court’s opinion, the homeowner owned and operated a contracting, framing, and remodeling business. The plaintiff worked for the defendant’s company. On some occasions, the employer offered his employees an opportunity to perform tasks on his personal property, to earn extra money. This work was “completely separate” from their work for the company and was performed for the homeowner’s personal benefits.

On the occasion giving rise to the claim, another employee asked the owner if he could perform some tasks at his home on the upcoming Saturday. The owner agreed and paid the employee. The employee then asked the plaintiff if he wanted to make extra money by assisting him with the tasks; the plaintiff agreed. On the day of the incident, the homeowner left his residence while both the employee and plaintiff worked at his home. The employee told the plaintiff that the homeowner asked him to trim the fence and burn the brush. The employee began to spread gasoline to begin the fire; however, the brush blew up like an explosion and burned the plaintiff’s skin off.

The plaintiff filed a claim against the homeowner, arguing, that the homeowner was negligent for failing to supervise the brush burning, having gasoline on his property, not training the plaintiff as to the proper use of the gasoline, and not training the other employee on how to use or supervise the brush burning. Additionally, the plaintiff claimed that the owner was responsible for the employee under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

Under Georgia law, plaintiffs must establish four elements to succeed on a negligence claim: the defendant’s legal duty, a breach of the duty, a causal connection between the conduct and resulting injury, and actual losses or damages because of the breach. Plaintiffs must understand that the “occurrence of an unfortunate event” is not, by itself, enough to amount to negligence.

In this case, the court explained that determining whether the owner/employer had an affirmative duty to protect the plaintiff, turns on whether the parties were working as employees or independent contractors. The law explains that determining a person’s employment status requires examining whether the employer controls the time, manner, and method of a person’s work.

Here, there is no evidence that the owner maintained any right to tell the workers exactly how to go about their tasks, which tools to use, or what procedures to follow in carrying out their work. Instead, the owner only provided general tasks, and most critically, he was not home when the two performed the tasks. Finally, the plaintiff admitted he was under the other employee’s direct supervision, not the owner. Under these circumstances, although the two are employees of the owner during the week, they worked as independent contractors on this occasion. Therefore, in this specific instance, the court ultimately found that because there is no legal authority that an employer has to train and supervise an independent contractor, the defendant cannot be held liable.

Have You Suffered Injuries in a Georgia Accident?

If you or someone you love has suffered injuries because of another’s negligence, contact the Georgia workers’ compensation and personal injury attorneys at McAleer Law. Our attorneys have extensive experience successfully representing clients in their claims for damages related to motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death, medical malpractice, and premises liability. We also handle workers’ compensation cases, and can help you understand which type of claim is appropriate given your circumstances. We understand that these cases are rarely straightforward and can present injury victims with many procedural and legal hurdles. We have recovered significant amounts of compensation on behalf of injury victims through our diligent representation and legal acumen. Contact our office at 404-622-5337, to schedule a free initial consultation with an attorney at our firm.