Fourth Circuit Addresses Manual Labor Exception to Independent Contractor Statute in Workers’ Compensation Case

While an independent contractor is typically ineligible for workers’ compensation benefits in Louisiana, an exception exists for independent contractors who spend a substantial portion of their work time performing manual labor, when that work is being done pursuant to the terms of a contract and when it is part of the principal’s trade, business, or occupation.

In the Fourth Circuit case of Knox v. Elite Protection Solutions and Willie’s Chicken Shack, LLC, the Court was asked to address whether a security guard was able to establish the above factors in order to benefit from the manual labor exception under La. R.S. 23:1021(7).

Knox v. Elite Protection Solutions and Willie’s Chicken Shack, LLC – Background

The background of the case is as follows: Elite Protection Solutions and Willie’s Chicken Shack entered into a Security Services Agreement whereby Elite was to furnish uniformed and armed security guards at a restaurant location on Bourbon Street. Mr. Knox was hired directly by Elite and assigned to work at Willie’s Chicken Shack when he was shot during an altercation with a patron.

Mr. Knox filed a workers’ compensation claim against both Elite and Willie’s Chicken Shack, but the latter sought dismissal on the basis of Mr. Knox’s status as an independent contractor. In opposition, Mr. Knox argued that while he was an independent contractor, he fell under the manual labor exception because nearly all of his job was in “anticipation of physical activity”.

The workers’ compensation judge denied the motion for summary judgment filed by Willie’s Chicken Shack, and a writ was thereafter filed with the Fourth Circuit.

The Fourth Circuit Ruling

Because it was undisputed that an independent contractor relationship existed, the Fourth Circuit focused on whether Mr. Knox spent a substantial part of his work time performing manual labor. In doing so, the Court found that both the record and Mr. Knox’s own testimony revealed that the mental element of his security job predominated over the physical element because he spent the majority of his time watching patrons’ activities and anticipating the potential for engaging in the physical element of his job. Furthermore, Mr. Knox could not point to any instance or task where he had engaged in manual labor other than the altercation in which he was injured. The Fourth Circuit also concluded that Mr. Knox’s work was not part of Willie’s Chicken Shack’s trade, occupation, or business, despite his claim that the restaurant could not have operated safely or effectively without security. While Mr. Knox’s work was desirable for employee and customer comfort and satisfaction, it was not necessary for the operation of the restaurant. Accordingly, the Court reversed the ruling of the workers’ compensation court.