Sheik Zahid Ali was injured in 2006, after having driven a tractor-trailer rig filled with latex paint from Hayward, California to Spokane, Washington. While unloading the trailer a pressurized cap came off the trailer causing serious injury. The truck was owned by Ali’s Trucking; the trailer was owned by Trimac who was insured by Lexington Insurance Company. The injury was industrial. The significant issue was the claim of an employment relationship with Trimac.
Trimac is a multi-national corporation that specializes in transporting liquid latex-based products from producer to buyer. To transport its products, Trimac used approximately four tractors it owned driven by about six employee-drivers and about 14 tractors leased to it by about 32 “independent contractors.” One such owner/operator was Ali’s Trucking, a business owned by Intaz Ali. Intaz owned two tractors he had purchased from Trimac. He leased the tractors back to Trimac for its business, sometimes driving one himself and using other drivers. Ali’s Trucking had no business premises apart from Trimac’s Hayward location, where Ali’s Trucking kept its tractors. Ali’s Trucking entered into a contract with Trimac, entitled “Lease Agreement Independent Contractor” (Lease Agreement) which designates Trimac as “Carrier” and Ali’s Trucking as “Independent Contractor.”
However the relationships among Trimac, Ali’s Trucking and Sheik operated quite differently in practice from the way their relationships are outlined in these contracts. Most significantly was the exercise of control over drivers. Although the Lease Agreement purported to place responsibility on the Independent Contractor for “selecting, hiring, firing, supervising, training, setting wages and working conditions” for their drivers and employees. But the way in which the operation actually worked reflects substantial Trimac involvement.
At the conclusion of a hearing on the employment issue, it was found that that Sheik Zahid Ali was an employee of Trimac. It was further found that “[t]he legal relationship between Sheik Ali, Ali’s Trucking and Trimac was one of joint employment. Both employers had the right to direct and control Sheik Ali’s activities while he was at work on the joint enterprise of transporting materials for Trimac and Ali’s Trucking and that Trimac not only had the right to control, it affirmatively exercised that control. Trimac appealed this finding.
The WCAB and the Court of Appeal affirmed in the unpublished case of Lexington Insurance Co. v. WCAB (Ali).
The seminal case of Borello and Sons, Inc. v. DIR (1989) 48 Cal.3d 341 acknowledged that the right to control work details is the primary consideration. Ultimately, Lexington’s arguments must fail because it has fallen short of demonstrating that the decision is unsupported by substantial evidence or that, as a matter of law, all commercial truck drivers whom a transportation company designates as “independent contractors” are necessarily so.