Family Receives Monetary Damages in a Workers' Compensation Case

This case originated in Connecticut and was on the Justia website this week. In a 5-1 ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court, the court ruled in favor of the victim to receive a $500,000 workers’ compensation claim. An elderly gentleman age 89, Liebman, had a live-in health care worker named, Kotsovska from Ukraine.

The health care worker was paid $100.00 per day to cook, clean, and run general errands on behalf of Liebman. On an occasion in December 2008, the worker had dinner with Liebman. Liebman was driving the car and accidentally hit the gas pedal and pinned the health care worker against the wall. The worker had her leg severed and died shortly after the accident.

Kotsoyska’s family sued Liebman for wrongful death action. Liebman argued that the case should have been filed as a petition for workers’ compensation outside of court. The health care worker did not have a Social Security number and her visa did not authorize her to work in the United States. Liebman contended that an off-the-books employee was still an employee under the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act.

The Superior Court advanced the case, however, leaving it up to the jury to determine whether Kotsoyska was an employee or an independent contractor. I do not agree with this assessment, because it appears to be a question of law as to whether she was an employee or contractor.

Though the jury found that she was an independent contractor, the appellate court reversed the $500,000 verdict for Kotsoyska’s family. The New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously reinstated that verdict finding that the trial court’s jury instructions may have been “flawed” but was ultimately correct.

The judge failed to instruct the jury as to whether the employee had any fringe benefits or whether she was supervised. The New Jersey Supreme Court determined that these two factors were the deciding factors as to whether the health care worker was an independent contractor or an employee.

The New Jersey Supreme Court held, “Decedent, who was not a caretaker by trade, had no Social Security number, and was not permitted under the terms of her visa to work in this country, agreed to provide general services on an as-needed basis,” Justice Lee Solomon for the court. To determine the health care worker employment status need not necessarily face a determination by the Division of Workers’ Compensation, Solomon added that Union Superior Court had been up to the task.

While this case is from another state, I completely agree with the ruling in this case. The health care worker lived in the house with Mr. Liebman, cooked, cleaned, and was at his total discretion. She was required to be in his home to carry out her services on behalf of the master. Therefore, she was an employee under the law in my opinion.

What is sad is that a human life is only valued at $500,000. I am sure that she had a loving family that has to wonder if the settlemtn was just under the law.

If you are injured on the job, I encourage you to seek a Workers’ Compensation lawyer to help you achieve a fair and just settlement in your case.

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