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Martinez v. Rames

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

July 12, 2017

FEDERICO ESPINOZA MARTINEZ
v.
JAROSLAV RAMES/WORLD OF TASTE, LLC

         APPEAL FROM THE OFFICE OF WORKERS' COMPENSATION NO. 14-07466, DISTRICT "EIGHT" Honorable Robert Varnado, Workers' Compensation Judge

          Cesar R. Burgos Robert J. Daigre Gabriel O. Mondino George M. McGregor BURGOS & ASSOCIATES, L.L.C.COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, FEDERICO ESPINOZA MARTINEZ

          Eric O. Person ATTORNEY AT LAW COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, JAROSLAV RAMES/WORLD OF TASTE, LLC

          Court composed of Chief Judge James F. McKay III, Judge Terri F. Love, Judge Rosemary Ledet

          Terri F. Love Judge.

         This appeal arises from injuries plaintiff received when lowering a washer/dryer combination unit from a second floor apartment for defendant. Plaintiff filed a claim in workers' compensation court contending that he was owed medical expenses and wages that he was unable to earn as a result of his injuries. The workers' compensation court found that plaintiff was not entitled to damages because he was an independent contractor. Plaintiff appeals contending that even if he was an independent contractor, the manual labor exception made him eligible for workers' compensation benefits.

         We find that the workers' compensation court erred by finding that plaintiff was not entitled to benefits because he was an independent contractor. Independent contractors may receive workers' compensation benefits if they perform manual labor for a substantial amount of time and the labor is part of the principal's trade or business. As such, in the interest of justice, we vacate the workers' compensation court's judgment and remand the matter for further proceedings.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Federico Espinoza Martinez was hired to perform work for Jarislov Rames. Mr. Martinez was lowering a washer/dryer combination unit from a second floor apartment with the help of four other people. Mr. Martinez testified that he received a laceration on his hand when one of the cords used to lower the unit "just busted or I don't know exactly how it happened, " causing the unit to "come down all of the [sic] sudden." He and the others completed lowering the unit and then he informed Mr. Rames of his injury. Mr. Rames drove Mr. Martinez to the emergency room and paid the initial emergency room fee of $500 to ensure Mr. Martinez received treatment. Mr. Martinez's laceration required stitches. When Mr. Martinez arrived to collect his pay, Mr. Rames deducted a portion of the $500 emergency room fee from Mr. Martinez's earnings. Mr. Rames informed Mr. Martinez that he would deduct the remainder of the fee from future earnings. Mr. Martinez did not speak to Mr. Rames after the reduction of his pay.

         Mr. Martinez then filed a Disputed Claim for Compensation contending that Mr. Rames owed him workers' compensation benefits as a result of his injury. The workers' compensation court conducted a hearing and found that Mr. Martinez was not an employee of Mr. Rames. The workers' compensation court further found that Mr. Martinez was an independent contractor and was, therefore not entitled to workers' compensation benefits. Mr. Martinez's appeal followed.

         Mr. Martinez asserts that the trial court erred by failing to apply the manual labor exception to the independent contractor doctrine.[1]

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Appellate courts review workers' compensation cases using the manifest error - clearly wrong standard of review. Chaisson v. Louisiana Rock Monsters, LLC, 13-1423, p. 3 (La.App. 4 Cir. 4/2/14), 140 So.3d 55, 57. "In applying the manifest error-clearly wrong standard of review, the appellate court must not determine whether the trier of fact was right or wrong, but only whether the factfinder's conclusion was a reasonable one." Id. A choice between two permissible views of the evidence cannot be wrong. Id. "Thus, 'if the [factfinder's] findings are reasonable in light of the record reviewed in its entirety, the court of appeal may not reverse, even if convinced that had it been sitting as the trier of fact, it would have weighed the evidence differently.'" Id., quoting Banks v. Indus. Roofing & Sheet Metal Works, Inc., 96-2840, p. 8 (La. 7/1/97), 696 So.2d 551, 556.

         However, "[w]hen legal error interdicts the fact-finding process in a workers' compensation proceeding, the de novo, rather than the manifest error, standard of review applies." Baker v. Harrah's, 15-0229, pp. 6-7 (La.App. 4 Cir. 3/9/16), 190 So.3d 379, 386, writ denied, 16-0659 (La. 5/27/16), 192 So.3d 743. "Likewise, interpretation of statutes pertaining to workers' compensation is a question of law and warrants a de novo review to determine if the ruling was legally ...


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