Remand For Failure to Consider Manual Labor Exception

Federico Martinez cut his hand while lowering a washer/dryer unit from a second floor apartment.  Martinez was working for Jarislov Rames at the time of his injury.  After completing the task, Martinez reported his injury and Rames took him to the emergency room.  Rames paid the $500 emergency room fee.

When Martinez tried to collect his pay, he learned that Rames deducted a portion of the emergency room fee and would be deducting the balance from future pay.  Martinez filed a workers’ compensation claim claiming entitlement to benefits.  After a hearing, a workers’ compensation judge determined that Martinez was an independent contractor not entitled to benefits.  Martinez appealed this decision, arguing the he met the manual labor exception to the independent contractor doctrine.

The Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal began its analysis with the distinction between employees and independent contractors.  Some factors courts rely on in making this distinction include: (1) whether there is a valid contract between the parties; (2) whether the work being done is of an independent nature such that the contractor may employ its own means in accomplishing it; (3) whether the contract calls for specific piecework as a unit to be done according to the independent contractor’s own methods, without being subject to the control and direction of the principal, except as to the result of the services; (4) whether there is a specific price for the job; and (5) whether the duration of the work is for a specific time and not subject to unilateral, at-will termination.  There was no dispute here that Martinez was an independent contractor.

The Fourth Circuit noted that the definition of “independent contractor” under Louisiana law provides a “manual labor” exception.  Although independent contractors are generally not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, the law includes an exception that allows an independent contractor to show that a substantial part of his or her work is manual labor and that the work performed is part of the principal’s trade or occupation.  If the exception is met, the independent contractor can become eligible for benefits.

Although the workers’ compensation judge conducted an employee/independent contractor analysis, the Fourth Circuit found that the judge erred in stopping the analysis without considering the manual labor exception.  The Fourth Circuit vacated the judgment and remanded the case to the workers’ compensation judge for further proceedings on the manual labor exception.

Martinez v. Rames