Trainee/Apprentice May Not Sue Independent Contractor/Truck Driver

Independent Contractor/Driver Was Joint Employer Under Iowa Law

Construing Iowa law, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed a federal district court’s decision granting summary judgment to an independent contractor/truck driver in a negligence action filed against him by a trainee/apprentice who sustained serious injuries in a vehicle crash [Quiles v. Johnson, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 28747 (8th Cir., Oct. 12, 2018)]. The 8th Circuit held that the defendant driver, who had agreed with a trucking company to serve as a “mentor” for one of its trainee/apprentices, was the latter’s joint employer. Accordingly, he was immune from suit under the exclusive remedy provisions of the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act.

Background

The plaintiff, Quiles, was severely injured when the defendant/driver (Johnson) fell asleep at the wheel and drove his tractor-trailer off I-80 in Adair County, Iowa. At the time of the accident, Quiles was a new employee of Swift Transportation (“Swift”), an interstate motor carrier. Quiles was completing Swift’s commercial driving training program. Johnson was transporting goods for Swift as an independent contractor and serving as Quiles’s “driving mentor” in Swift’s training program. At the time of the accident, Quiles was off-duty in the truck’s sleeper berth.

After receiving workers’ compensation benefits from Swift, Quiles filed a diversity action against Johnson, alleging that his injuries were caused by Johnson’s negligence in driving the truck. The district court granted Johnson’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that Quiles was a dual employee of Swift and Johnson and, therefore, Quiles’ exclusive remedy was under Iowa’s workers’ compensation laws.

Eighth Circuit’s Holding

The Eighth Circuit noted that all three contracting parties benefitted from this arrangement. Johnson received Quiles’ labor, permitting Johnson’s truck to operate more hours with team driving. Quiles received instruction from Johnson, an hourly wage from Swift when team driving with Johnson, and credit toward completing the training program. Swift received the benefit of having shipments delivered with team driving while its trainee advanced toward becoming an employee qualified to drive a Swift truck on his own.

The Court added that the critical issue here was whether Quiles had entered into a contract of hire, express or implied, with Johnson. Citing Iowa law, the Court indicated that in Iowa, a contract will be implied where there has been a mutual manifestation of assent by acts and deeds (rather than words) to the same terms of an agreement. The Court added that in typical “dual employment” situations, one firm typically served as a temporary employment agency or broker, providing (i.e., loaning) its employees to clients to perform necessary work. Here, however, the situation was different. The Eighth Circuit stressed that the fact pattern here was one of “joint employment.” Quoting Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, the quote stated:

Joint employment occurs when a single employee, under contract with two employers, and under the simultaneous control of both, simultaneously performs services for both employers, and when the service for each employer is the same as, or is closely related to, that for the other. In such a case, both employers are liable for workers’ compensation [Larson, § 68.01].

The Eighth Circuit thought it was particularly important that the Iowa workers’ compensation statute [Iowa Code § 85.61(11)] includes an “apprenticeship” as one type of “contract of service, express or implied” that is performed “for an employer.” It added that when a general employer’s apprenticeship program required its employee to apprentice with an independent contractor in performing work for the general employer’s benefit, a joint employment was likely to occur. The Eighth Circuit concluded:

Quiles enrolled in Swift’s driving program knowing he would need to train under a mentor to complete Swift’s apprenticeship program. The parties’ separate agreements with Swift, and their actions in team driving to deliver shipments for Swift in Johnson’s truck, demonstrate that both Johnson and Quiles intended to enter into an apprentice relationship — “the overriding element in determining whether an employment contract existed” [quoting Rouse v. State, 369 N.W.2d 811, 814 (Iowa 1985).

The workers’ compensation benefits Quiles received were his exclusive remedy against Johnson.

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