Subcontractor’s Employee Who Was Killed While Returning to South Carolina After Making a Delivery Was a Statutory Employer of an Upstream Contractor – Collins v. Seko Charlotte

Workers’ compensation laws are supposed to simplify the process by which an injured worker, or the family of an employee killed in an on-the-job accident, receives monetary compensation. Of course, the actual ease of the process depends upon several factors, and some cases can be much more complicated than it would seem on the surface.

While factors such as extent of a worker’s disability or whether he or she can return to the pre-injury job are relatively common, other issues can arise. In the recent case of Collins v. Seko Charlotte, the issue was not the amount of compensation due but the pocket from which it would come.

Facts of the Case

The worker was employed by a delivery service (West Expedited & Delivery Service (hereinafter “West”)) that sometimes served as a subcontractor for another company (Seko Charlotte) that was also in the business of making cargo deliveries. Seko Charlotte contracted with West to make a delivery in Wisconsin. The worker made the delivery as the companies had agreed, but he was killed in an automobile accident on the way back to South Carolina. The worker’s dependents filed a workers’ compensation claim against West, Seko Charlotte, the insurance company that insured Seko Charlotte, and the uninsured employers’ fund (West was uninsured at the time of the accident).

The case was heard by a single commissioner of the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission, who determined that the worker was the statutory employee of Seko Charlotte at the time of the accident. On appeal to the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission Appellate Panel, the panel reversed. On further appeal to the court of appeals, the court reversed the panel’s decision and reinstated the single commissioner’s order.

The Decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court

On certiorari to the state’s highest court, the court affirmed the court of appeals’ decision, holding that the intermediate court of appeals was correct in reversing the panel’s decision and reinstating the single commissioner’s order. The court phrased the issue as whether the court of appeals erred in holding that the worker was a statutory employee of Seko Charlotte at the time of his fatal accident.

According to the court, an employee of a subcontractor may be considered a statutory employee of the owner or upstream employer if one of three tests is met. The first two tests pertain to whether the subcontractor’s activity was important to the contractor’s business and whether it was “necessary, essential, and integral” to the business. The third test, which the court found most applicable to the case at bar, was whether the contractor’s own employees had performed the “identical activity” to the subcontractor. Answering the third test in the affirmative, the court found that the worker was a statutory employer of Seko Charlotte at the time of the accident, even though Seko Charlotte argued that the contractual relationship between it and West ended when the worker’s return trip began.

To Speak to an Experienced South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Lawyer

If you or a family member has been hurt on the job, you probably have a lot of questions about your legal rights to compensation, such as temporary disability and payment of medical expenses. To speak to an attorney knowledgeable in South Carolina work injury law, call Attorney Patrick E. Knie at 864-582-5118 today and ask for an appointment. With offices in Spartanburg and Greenville, we represent injured workers throughout South Carolina.

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