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Young v. Hood's Gardens, Inc.

Supreme Court of Indiana

January 22, 2015

JASON YOUNG, Appellant (Defendant),
HOOD'S GARDENS, INC., Appellee (Plaintiff)

Page 422

Appeal from the Hamilton Superior Court, No. 29D04-1008-PL-12527. The Honorable J. Richard Campbell, Judge. On Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 29A02-1303-PL-298.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: John P. Daly, Jr., Matthew M. Golitko, Golitko & Daly PC, Indianapolis, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: John C. Trimble, Lewis Wagner, LLP, Indianapolis, Indiana; Sonia C. Das, Rocap Musser LLP, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Dickson, Justice. Rush, C.J., and Rucker, David, and Massa, JJ., concur.


Page 423

Dickson, Justice.

When a person engages a contractor for the performance of work exceeding $1,000 in value but fails to take certain steps to assure that the contractor complies with the Indiana Worker's Compensation Act, that person is secondarily liable to the same extent as the contractor for worker's compensation benefits payable to an employee of the contractor injured in an accident arising out of and in the course of the contracted-for work. This case presents an issue of first impression: whether the predicate $1,000 in value is determined solely by the amount of money paid to the contractor or also includes the value of other consideration received by the contractor in connection with the services provided. We hold that the $1,000 monetary threshold may include the ascertainable value of ancillary consideration received by the contractor.

In September 2009, Steve Hood, operator of Hood's Gardens, Inc., a wholesale greenhouse (the business), contacted Craig Mead, proprietor of Discount Tree Extraction a/k/a D & E Tree Removal (the contractor), to remove a large tree at the business. The contractor orally quoted a fixed price of $600 for the work, to be paid upon completion. As part of the job, the contractor was to clear away and remove from the premises all of the wood and debris. The business permitted the contractor to keep the wood, which the contractor intended to sell as firewood. To complete the work, the contractor hired the plaintiff, a tree climber-cutter, to take down and remove the trunk. While working, the plaintiff was severely injured and rendered a paraplegic. As a result of the work, the contractor received the wood from the removed tree, and the business paid the contractor $600.

The present litigation arose as a declaratory judgment action brought by the business seeking to establish that it had no secondary liability because--under its view--the value of the work by the contractor was less than $1,000. Following various procedural occurrences,[1] the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the business. The trial court also struck a portion of the plaintiff's affidavit containing his opinion that the value of the wood exceeded $400 on grounds that the plaintiff did not qualify as an expert and there was nothing about the plaintiff's knowledge and background that would make his opinion admissible as a lay observer. The plaintiff challenged both issues on appeal, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Young v. Hood's Gardens, Inc., 2 N.E.3d 724 (Ind.Ct.App. 2013). We granted transfer and now address whether the " value" that triggers secondary liability under Indiana Code section 22-3-2-14(b) is limited to the dollar amount paid in cash or may include the value of other property transferred in connection with the performance of services.[2]

We review summary judgment de novo, applying the same standard as the trial court: summary judgment is appropriate

Page 424

only where " the designated evidentiary matter shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Ind. Trial Rule 56(C); see Kroger Co. v. Plonski, 930 N.E.2d 1, 4-5 (Ind. 2010). We consider only those materials properly designated pursuant to Trial Rule 56 and construe all factual inferences and resolve all doubts as to the existence of a material issue in favor of the non-moving party. Plonski, 930 N.E.2d at 5-6. Further, the interpretation of a statute is a legal question that we also review de novo. State v. Int'l Bus. Machines Corp., 964 N.E.2d 206, 209 (Ind. 2012).

The Indiana's Worker's Compensation Act, specifically Indiana Code section 22-3-2-14(b), " imposes on a person who hires a contractor without verifying that the contractor carries worker's compensation insurance liability to the same extent as the contractor for the injury or death of any of the contractor's employees," Everett Cash Mut. Ins. Co. v. Taylor, ...

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