A trial in California is going to settle some important questions about workers’ compensation in the state.
Workers’ Compensation Trial Over Death of Firefighter
On trial is Ian Czirban, the owner of Czirban Concrete Construction. His company contracted with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) to provide firefighting services during the Big Sur Fire back in 2016.
Chief among those services was a $156,000 per year contract for the seasonal use of Czirban’s bulldozer.
Mr. Czirban then hired Robert Reagan to drive the bulldozer. There was no employment contract – just an informal agreement via text message.
Five days into the job, Mr. Reagan was driving the bulldozer on unfamiliar territory after dark. The bulldozer tipped over and he was killed.
When Mr. Reagan’s family sought workers’ compensation coverage, they discovered that Czirban Concrete Construction did not have workers’ compensation insurance.
Mr. Czirban claimed that Mr. Reagan was an independent contractor, not an employee.
Worker Misclassification in the Gig Firefighting Economy
The numerous wildfires in California have created an upstart industry of freelance firefighters. Company owners hire people on a contractual basis to do things like clear brush, dig trenches and ditches, and transport flammable materials out of a fire zone. Those workers are frequently classified as independent contractors, though they are often treated as traditional employees.
The difference matters because while employees are covered by their employer’s workers’ compensation insurance, independent contractors are not. With a role as dangerous as fighting wildfires, where serious or fatal injuries are always on the table, workers’ compensation coverage is critical for the people on the front lines.
However, precisely because fighting wildfires is such dangerous work, maintaining workers’ compensation insurance is expensive. It should come as no surprise that most employers who provide firefighting services misclassify workers as independent contractors all the time. One CAL FIRE manager who supervised heavy equipment contractors from 2004 through 2017 estimated that 80 percent of those businesses used independent contractors rather than employees.
Trial is Supposed to Be a Wakeup Call
The trial of Mr. Czirban is supposed to serve as a wakeup call to employers who are scoring the lucrative private firefighting contracts, while refusing to provide workers’ compensation coverage for the people who are actually going to be fighting the fires.
If convicted on the counts of insurance fraud, workers’ compensation fraud, and tax allegations he is facing, Mr. Czirban could face an extended jail sentence.
St. Joseph Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at the Smith Law Office
Getting the workers’ compensation that you need and deserve for a workplace injury can take a fight. The personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers at the Smith Law Office in St. Joseph, Missouri can help.
Contact them online or call their law office at (816) 875-9373 to schedule the consultation you need to make an informed decision about your future.