What is an independent contractor?

Dustin Compton
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Many times in personal injury law it is crucial to determined whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor.  This issue most commonly arises when determining legal duty, and ultimately liability for negligence and personal injuries.

One is an independent contractor if the facts of the case indicate a person or group controls the physical details of the work independently of another person or group. Murrell v. Goertz, 597 P.2d 1223, 1225 (Okla. 1979); Dodd v. Rush, 406 P.2d 261 (Okla. 1965).  If the evidence concerning “the status of a party defendant [as an independent contractor] is reasonably susceptible of but a single inference, the question is one purely to be decided by the court.” Id. at 1225.

Although the right to control the physical details of the work is the decisive test, other factors have been enumerated by the Court in determining whether the person is an employee, servant, agent or independent contractor.  Other factors include whether the nature of the contract between the parties is oral or written; whether or not the employee is engaged in a distinct occupation or business and whether he carries on such occupations or business for others; whether the employer or the workman supplies the instrumentalities, tools and the place or work for the person doing the work; the length of time for which the person is employed; whether the method of payment is by month or by the job; whether or not the work is part of the regular business of the employer; whether or not the parties believe they are creating a relationship of master and servant; and whether the parties have the right to terminate the relationship without liability.  See Hartings v. Benham Engineering Co., 519 P.2d 932 (Okla. App. 1974); Morain v. Lollis, 371 P.2d 473 (Okla. 1962); Mistletoe Express Service v. Culp, 353 P.2d 9 (Okla. 1959).

The question of whether one is an independent contractor or employee must be determined by the facts peculiar to each case.  See Fuller White Chevrolet Co. v. Graham, 355 P.2d 557 (Okla. 1960); Cities Service Oil Co. v. Powers, 119 P.2d 81 (Okla. 1941); Barnsdall Refining Co. v. State Industrial Commission, 21 P.2d 749 (Okla. 1933).