The Alaska Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that found a deceased worker’s employment status should be determined by a jury and not before trial.
The Supreme Court said Friday that a Superior Court judge wrongly ruled that a jury should decide whether Nicholson Tinker was an employee or an independent contractor when he was killed by a collapsed retaining wall at a construction site.
Mr. Tinker’s estate sued Mark Welty and his company, North Country Services, for wrongful death, claiming that Mr. Tinker was an employee and that Mr. Welty was negligent in not having workers’ compensation insurance.
The defendants argued that Mr. Tinker was an independent contractor who was not eligible for workers̵7; compensation.
At trial, the estate attempted to have the issue of employee status resolved before trial, but the Superior Court agreed with the defendants that the issue should be left to the jury.
The district court agreed with the defendants and the estate appealed.
The Supreme Court ruled that a judge, not a jury, should decide the issue of employee status before trial because state law does not provide a right to a jury trial.
“We agree with the estate that a prompt resolution of employee status is important because of its possible effect on such fundamental issues as the type of action a party may bring or the burden of proof of negligence,” the high court wrote.