Employee Classification, Location Among Factors Affecting Missouri Workers' Compensation Awards

In this post, the Missouri workers' compensation attorneys would like to discuss a recent decision of the Missouri Court of Appeals. In Rader vs. Werner Enterprises, No. ED95905, ---S.W.3d --- (Mo.App.E.D. 2012), an injured over the road truck driver sought permanent total disability benefits, along with compensation for future medical care, and ultimately prevailed.

952313_gavel.jpgTimothy Rader had worked as a truck driver for 6-8 years for the same company, Werner Enterprises. In May of 2003, he sustained a head injury as he unloaded a truck at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis: a partially empty keg rolled out of the truck and struck him.

Rader was taken to the ER, where he reported pain and numbness in various parts of his body, and he couldn't remember if he had lost consciousness. Over the next several months, Rader continued to experience severe pain (particularly in his back and knees), along with various other symptoms. He received extensive medical treatment and was unable to work.

The Claim:
Rader filed a workers' compensation claim in May of 2005. After a hearing, where an Administrative Law Judge heard testimony from Rader and several experts, Rader was awarded permanent total disability benefits and future medical care expenses. Werner then filed for a review with the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission, but the Commission upheld the award. Ultimately, Werner appealed to the Eastern District Court of Appeals.

The Appeal:
Werner disputed the Commission's ruling, appealing six points:

1. Under the terms of Rader's revised employee agreement, Werner argued, Rader was only allowed to seek workers' comp benefits in Nebraska, where Werner's corporate office is located, and where an alleged employment agreement provides for jurisdiction. Their stance was that the Missouri court did not have jurisdiction over the claim, even though the accident happened in St. Louis.

2.Werner also claimed that Rader was not eligible for workers' compensation benefits because he was an owner-operator and not an employee. In February 2003, Rader had entered into a new employment agreement with Werner, which changed his job title to "independent contractor": he purchased a truck from Werner, began paying his own expenses, and received a larger pay rate.

3. Before he worked for Werner, Rader had suffered previous injuries to his knees and back. Werner contended that the May 2003 accident was not the cause of Rader's present disability, and that Rader instead had a preexisting degenerative condition.

4. Werner disputed the award for future medical care, maintaining that Rader's May 2003 injury did not necessitate future treatment.

5. The company contended that Rader was in fact capable of returning to work, and disputed the award for permanent total disability.

6. Finally, Werner contested the amount of the award, based on Rader's average weekly wages.