Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan from The Jernigan Law Firm.
NOTE: The timeline for filing an injury claim with the Washington Department of Labor and Industries is shorter – only 1 year – than what Mr. Jernigan describes in his article.
There is a scam out there and truck drivers are the victims, especially if they are seriously injured in a trucking accident. It works like this: an out of work driver hears about a job and fills out an application with a national trucking company. He then gets a call saying he has been accepted as a driver, contingent on a physical exam and a drug test. The driver is then asked to show up at work on an appointed date for his first delivery job. When he shows up he is asked to “sign papers” which allow him to lease/own the truck as he drives it across the country, and he signs a contract that declares that he is an independent contractor (although in reality the trucking company controls the deliveries and is the only source of revenue for the driver). Further, he is required to purchase accident insurance through a broker designated by the trucking company and the premiums are taken out of his paycheck. Because the driver is anxious to work again and is not particularly experienced in reviewing legal documents the driver signs the papers, gets in the truck and begins working again as an interstate truck driver.
The costs of this workplace injury are now shifted from the employer/insurer to the taxpayer.
Like most of us, these drivers never expect to be in a serious accident. If they unfortunately do have an accident while driving the truck, they look to the accident policy they purchased. If they are disabled, it pays the same benefits as workers’ compensation and provides medical coverage. Many drivers think they are actually on workers’ compensation. The catch is that all benefits stop after 104 weeks (2 years). If after that time if the driver is still disabled and still needs medical care, it is a shock to find out none is available under this contract.
Is there no hope for the truck driver under these circumstances?
Why 104 weeks? Most states have workers’ compensation systems that require the claim be filed within 2 years. Since the 2-year period has run, the driver is out of luck and cannot file for workers’ compensation under state law. What happens if the driver needs additional surgery and continues to remain disabled? Most likely federal assistance programs like Medicaid or Medicare enter the picture and the costs of this workplace injury are now shifted from the employer/insurer to the taxpayer.
If involved in a serious accident, be aware of the 104-week provision and file a workers’ compensation claim before that time period expires.
Is there no hope for the truck driver under these circumstances? Although it might be a tough fight, most workers’ compensation statutes specifically state that an employer cannot contract away its obligations under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Thus, the truck driver’s legal argument is that the contract designating the driver as an independent contractor was void as a matter of law. If the employee has been the subject of fraud, equity may allow the driver to go ahead and file a claim and pursue the action even through the 2-yr period has run. Under these circumstances, certainly in North Carolina, the driver would have an opportunity to pursue this claim.
The lesson to be learned by truck drivers is not to assume that the contract you have innocently signed is valid. If involved in a serious accident, be aware of the 104-week provision and file a workers’ compensation claim before that time period expires. Finally, if you are asked to sign one of these contracts and you have options of other employment, you may want to decline this job offer and work for a company that is more ethical. Your livelihood and the welfare of your family may depend on this important decision.