The difference between an independent contractor and an employee is an important distinction in Washington, D.C. personal injury cases because an injured person’s ability to recover may be limited based on the negligent actor’s status. The following case shows how the plaintiff’s ability to recover compensation from his employer was limited by the wrongful actor’s status as an independent contractor.
In that case, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of injuries he suffered while working on his property. According to the record in the case, the defendant owned and operated a construction business, and the plaintiff was an employee of the defendant’s company. The defendant sometimes offered employees work at his home outside of normal work hours. One day, the plaintiff and his coworker went to do maintenance work, and among their tasks, they were told to burn the brush in the yard. The plaintiff attempted to do so by standing on top of a large pile of logs and throwing gasoline on the brush. The brush “blew up,” causing him to fall back and burning his skin with severe burns.
The plaintiff claimed that the defendant was liable because he failed to supervise the burning of the brush, he had gasoline available to use, he did not train the plaintiff on how to properly use the gasoline, and he did not train his coworker on how to properly use the gasoline or supervise others properly. He also claimed the defendant was responsible for his coworker’s negligence acts under respondeat superior. The defendant argued he was not liable for any of the coworker’s acts because he was an independent contractor rather than an employee.