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Flores v. Paragon Construction & Restoration, L.L.C.

A-1035-07T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

WORKERS COMPENSATION — Where a seasonal employee returns to his or her former employer in a subsequent season and is told that there is no work, but is given an incidental task to perform and that seasonal worker has no reason to believe that the conditions that he or she worked under are performing the occasional task were any different than in earlier years, he or she is covered by workers compensation insurance for any injuries that occurred in the performance of the occasional task.

A business owner, who operated a construction company, hired a worker, initially as a day laborer and then as a seasonal employee. The worker worked at the homes of the company’s clients and at the owner’s personal residence and returned each fall to his home in Mexico. When returned in the spring of 2003, he contacted the business owner seeking work but was told that there were no pending construction contracts. The business owner, however, agreed to hire the worker for a two-day job doing yard clean-up at his home. Both days the business owner picked up the worker and brought him back to his house to work. On the second day the worker ended up going with the business owner to help with a gutter installation at the home of the business owner’s friend, who was only being charged for the parts but not the labor. While at the house where the gutters were being installed, the worker fell from the ladder and broke both arms, a leg, and his nose.

On an action brought by the worker against the business owner, the lower court determined that the worker was entitled to benefits as an employee of the business owner and that the business owner could not add his homeowner’s insurance company as a party to the action. The lower court based its decision on its finding that the business owner had transported the worker and directed his actions at both his home and at the worksite. It also found that the worker had no reason to believe that the conditions that he worked under when he got injured were any different than in earlier years when he was hired by the business owner. Since it found that the worker was an employee covered by worker’s compensation, the lower court denied the business owner’s attempt to add his homeowner’s insurance company as a party.

On appeal, the business owner’s argument that the worker was engaged in casual employment and volunteered to assist him in installing the gutters at his friend’s house as a favor was rejected. The Appellate Division pointed out that worker’s compensation statutes were to be liberally construed in favor of employees in order to further their purpose. Under that analysis, along with the lower court’s findings and preference for the worker’s testimony, the Court affirmed the lower court’s determination that the worker was an employee of the company and eligible for worker’s compensation. It also affirmed the lower court’s determination that the worker was not a domestic employee and its resulting finding that the business owner’s homeowner’s insurance company could not be added as a party to the dispute.

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