South Carolina Supreme Court Says Nurse Anesthetist Was Employee, Not Independent Contractor

Reversing a decision by the state’s court of appeals, the Supreme Court of South Carolina recently held that direct evidence supported the Workers’ Compensation Commission’s original determination that a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), who sustained injuries when she fell during a surgical procedure, was an employee of the hospital where the surgery took place, and not an independent contractor [Shatto v. McLeod Regional Med. Ctr., 2013 S.C. LEXIS 339 (Dec. 18, 2013)]. The high court remanded the case to the court of appeals to address the additional issue of whether the CRNA’s fall was idiopathic in nature, which was raised by the hospital in its brief to the court of appeals.  

Citing Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, § 61.01, 61.04, the state supreme court indicated that the evidence of the hospital’s control of the CRNA weighed heavily in favor of an employment relationship, that immediately upon assignment to the hospital by a medical staffing firm, the CRNA signed multiple documents indicating the hospital’s right to control details such as where she could park and to whom she should report upon arriving each work day, and that the hospital’s contention that its control over the CRNA was merely linked to governmental regulations was not persuasive. For example, the court observed that the hospital subjected the CRNA to a dress code that was more stringent than the legal requirement that she merely wear sterile clothing.

The high court noted that the medical staffing agreement between the staffing firm and the hospital clearly indicated that the latter had the right to control the activities of the CRNA. The hospital furnished necessary equipment–a clear indicia of employment. In spite of the fact that the hospital was not a party to the agreement between the CRNA and the staffing firm, the hospital had the right to terminate her services. All these factors pointed to an employment relationship and not that of an independent contractor status.

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