Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Carrier Ruled to Be Employee

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Carrier Ruled to Be Employee

Article excerpt

IN A DECISION contrary to a series of newspaper victories on the issue, the Nebraska Supreme Court has needed that a carrier, badly injured on the job, was an employee and thereby entitled to workers' compensation.

The court decided in favor of the victim despite the newspaper's carrier handbook that states the carrier is "not an employee of the paper but an independent contract merchant."

The trial court and the Supreme Court used the handbook as evidence that the carrier was actually employed by the paper. An attorney for the Nebraska Press Association in the proceeding said the decision is likely to be cited by plaintiffs in similar cases.

The suit, which goes back to 1991, pits the Fremont Tribune against Jennifer Larson, a youth carrier, who suffered permanent injuries when she was struck by a car while delivering papers on her bike. The girl actually a substitute for the carrier who originally contracted with the Tribune, is reportedly in a "vegetative state."

A trial judge for the Workers' Compensation Court found that Larson was an employee of the newspaper company and awarded compensation benefits. A three-judge Workers' Compensation review reversed the trial judge, but the Nebraska Court of Appeals overturned the review panel's finding.

The Supreme Court upheld the trial judge's conclusion that although the carrier handbook referred to carriers as independent contractors and "merely subscribers of the newspaper," it was "undisputed that the Tribune maintained control of the routes, the delivery times, and the cost of the paper to the carriers and customers."

The handbook also instructed carriers to introduce themselves as being "from the Tribune."

Moreover, the trial judge noted, the 11,000-circulation Tribune accepted complaints, gave directions to carriers on complaint forms, told them when to collect and instructed them on how to bundle papers and deliver their routes alone.

The Tribune argued that some control was necessary to assure performance of the contract, but that it did not exercise a large amount of supervision over carriers, demanding only that they deliver their papers and pay their bills on time.

The trial judge also pointed out that the carriers' routes were their only source of income and that the Tribune conceded that carriers were an integral part of its newspaper delivery system, accounting for 64% of its circulation. …

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