CAT Express v. Muriel (previously Hammer) – Employee/Independent Contractor Status and the Limit of IL DOI to Adjudicate

This is a piece of case law that has me pretty confused. If anyone has any insight please contact me!

The IL First District Appellate Court recently issued a ruling in CAT Express v. Mureil. The ‘overview’ of this is:

CAT Express is a trucking company that purchased an IL Workers Compensation Assigned Risk “Pool” policy. They declared 6 clerical employees and paid about $1200 in premium. Upon audit the carrier (Liberty) categorized CAT Express’s [no idea how a possessive apostrophe works there to be honest –ed] independent contractor truckers as “employees”. This boosted premium to over $350K.

CAT engaged NCCI, who handles IL Work Comp rating disputes, and NCCI declined to hear stating they cannot determine whether someone is an employee but can only interpret NCCI Work Comp rating and rules. NCCI advised CAT of their right to appeal to the Director of Insurance (at the time Jennifer Hammer but the pleading was updated to reflect the current Director, Robert Muriel). The DOI investigated and said that these independent contractor truck drivers were employees for purposes of Work Comp premium and that the audit of $350K was appropriate.

CAT Express appealed. The subject of the appeal was actually never heard as the First District IL Appellate court asked the parties to submit supplemental briefs to explain why the Director of Insurance even had the authority to determine employee status in the first place. Both parties did, and they concurred that the Director did have that authority.

Long story short – the court found these briefs uncompelling and rules the Director of Insurance *did not* have authority to determine employment status for purposes of premium calculation. I would suggest reading the opinion, but they make a handful of specific notes:

    1. The Director/Department has only the authority vested to it by legislation, and that authority is [that which] “may be necessary and proper for the efficient administration of the insurance laws of this State” [such as enforcing rules].
    2. The Director/Department does have the authority to hear appeals for the application of rating systems/rules, such as hearing appeals from NCCI’s rulings.
    3. The Director/Department erred in taking up this matter after NCCI declined. In short, the determination made – that these independent contractor truckers were employees – is outside the “necessary and proper” administration of insurance law and is instead a legal determination that should be made by courts. The Director had no jurisdiction over this particular dispute.

The reason I find this puzzling is that I’ve been through NCCI dispute processes, up to presenting in front of the board for my district, and determining employees *for the purposes of premium only* is absolutely a function of the rules and ratings of NCCI. For coverage disputes absolutely not, but who is and is not an employee (or more specifically what payroll should and should not be captured) is in their manual.

So I’m not sure why NCCI declined or if such was appropriate – perhaps it was the way the grievance was worded. I no longer have access to NCCI online so I can’t review the specific parts of the manual that apply.

Secondly, and more broadly, the classification of a party for the purposes of premium calculation seems exactly within the “necessary and proper” purview of the Director. I am emphasizing “for the purposes of premium calculation” as that is from the ruling itself – the court uses that specific phrase.

To clarify: The determination of “employee” is only for purposes of generating premium. The Department classification is not, to my knowledge, relevant in any other capacity. For example, being an “employee” for purposes of Work Comp premium doesn’t mean you’re also an “employee” for, say, benefits eligibility.

That said I am out of my comfort zone; I suppose there could be some legal ramification of which I am unaware. Perhaps there is precedent that a determination of employee status on WC is a de facto determination elsewhere under law. If that is the case I would follow the theory, but no such information was provided in the opinion.

As a rhetorical tool – assuming the classification of “employee” for Work Comp rating is inconsequential elsewhere, review the situation while changing the term. For example, instead of using “employee status” use “chargeable exposure”. Is it proper for a Director of Insurance to determine the chargeable exposure for Work Comp policies? Perhaps I’m being a tad disingenuous but I do think doing such can be clarifying.

This is especially true because there are situations where those whose payroll is captured (for premium purposes) on a policy may not be eligible for benefits. Or, more often, those whose payroll isn’t captured are ultimately eligible for benefits. In fact this happens quite a lot and is why I suggest having work comp even if you have no employees; because the legal determination of an employee is separate and distinct from the premium determination of an employee (though it is true they try to be aligned as much as possible).

I found Davis v. Ed Hickman, P.A., March 2020 (editorial here; full opinion here) which is an Arkansas Appeals Court decision that found a worker was not entitled to benefits even though his payroll was captured for purposes of Work Comp premium and explicitly states that payroll being captured for purposes of work comp premium is simply a factor in determining employee/independent contractor status and not a determinant by itself. Granted AR DOI legislative authority may be broader, and I’m not sure how a “Work Comp Commission” ruling compares to a DOI appeal, but it’s still another piece that adds confusion.

For what it’s worth I don’t have a horse in this race – I don’t particularly care where a matter is adjudicated as long as it’s transparent and fair. I do admit to incredible frustration as a broker when dealing with Workers Compensation; it is by far the most troublesome policy to administrate and inquiries are often met with conflicting responses. So if you’re reading any level of annoyance in this post, that’s probably why.

Hired & Non-Owned Auto on the GL – A Problem

Let’s say you have an insured with multiple companies, all owning various assets or performing different operations. A classic example is a property owner who deeds each of her properties into a separate LLC. No problem here – simply write a separate General Liability/Package policy for each location with a Designated Premises/Project limitation. This happens all the time, especially in the world of real estate where a designated premises endorsement is sometimes mandatory. 

Like a good insurance broker you recommend Hired & Non-Owned Automobile to the insured. For ~$150 to add to a BOP, and slightly more to put it on a Package, it’s a no-brainer upgrade – everyone should have this coverage in place. 

But here’s the rub – most Hired & Non-Owned coverage is an endorsement that amends the underlying General Liability… which you’ve limited to Designated Premises or Projects. Meaning your Hired & Non-Owned Auto coverage likely only protects the insured from BI/PD arising out of the ownership, maintenance, use, etc. of the designated premises, or only those operations you specified. 

As long as you put Hired & Non-Owned Auto coverage on each policy though, maybe you’re safe? Probably not 100%. Let’s say you have an insured that owns various real estate under the name “Real Estate LLC”. There are 3 properties, each insured with separate carriers for price or coverage reasons and each with a policy that contains a Designated Premises Limitation. You’ve done your job and endorsed Hired & Non-Owned onto to all 3 policies. 

Now this client, via their “Real Estate LLC”, is about to purchase a 4th property. They drive over to meet the seller and cause a serious accident. Very arguably the injured party can say your client was driving for/on behalf of “Real Estate LLC” – after all Real Estate LLC was the one making the deal to purchase this property. Clearly this is a Hired/Non-Owned situation – a member of Real Estate LLC was using an auto that Real Estate LLC does not own in its business on its behalf. 

Now remember – we have three policies written in the name of “Real Estate, LLC”. But all have a Designated Premises Limitation which says in part: 

[We cover liability for] The ownership, maintenance or use of the premises shown in the Schedule and operations necessary or incidental to those premises; 

While undefined, simply because an action is being conducted by a common owner doesn’t make that action “necessary or incidental” to any particular owned premises, otherwise this endorsement would be meaningless. So the question is – does looking at a new building, completely unrelated to your others, constitute “necessary or incidental” activities, as it relates to the other properties and their policies, thus triggering the General Liability coverage (and the Hired/Non-Owned endorsed thereto) under one or more? While ultimately a legal question, my answer would be an emphatic, “No.” 

There are solutions to this situation – write Hired/Non-Owned on a separate/standalone auto policy; this policy won’t be limited to the “Designated Premises” like the GL would be. Further, since a separate Hired/Non-Owned Auto policy would “follow the insured”, you wouldn’t need to endorse it on every policy that insured has – potentially saving money.

Granted, it can be difficult to find a carrier that will write standalone Hired & Non-Owned coverage, but it’s even more unlikely to be able to change or manuscript your GL coverage.

Granted, this is likely a small crack in coverage but it’s one to be aware of. It’s also more likely to affect “smaller” insureds who don’t have the clout – say a schedule of 50 properties – to be able to convince a carrier to offer exception. At the very least, though, even if you can’t find coverage you need to make your clients aware of the potential gap.

Additional Insureds: a Reference (Work in Progress)

As there are already tons of learning opportunities regarding Additional Insured status, this post will instead be a general reference – it already assumes you’re well versed in the world of Additional Insureds. The following notes are especially relevant to construction industry clients as these are the primary drivers of complex AI requests, in my experience.

Since this is a reference it will be updated periodically. I will initially start with the oft-used GL AI forms, found especially in the construction world, and then proceed to review other options and how different lines handle AI. Please excuse any inelegant formatting and such as I’m still debating on how best to organize.

General Liability:

  • CG 20 10 11 85 – the “OG”, first created after the CGL overhaul in 1985.
    • No limitation for Ongoing vs. Completed Ops
    • Has historically been litigated to provide *sole* coverage for the AI (i.e., not limited to vicarious only)
    • Technically out of use for ages but many, many carriers still offer it as market demand (via contracts) is high
    • Still contains “[work] for that additional insured” limitation (see later) which can cause havoc with improper blanket wording
  • CG 20 10 10 01 – Very similar to CG 20 10 11 85, except limited to ONGOING operations only.
  • CG 20 37 10 01 – Very similar to CG 20 10 11 85, except limited to COMPLETED operations only.
    The pair of CG 20 10 10 01 and CG 20 37 10 01 are functionally equivalent to the CG 20 10 11 85.
  • CG 20 10 07 04 & CG 20 37 07 04 – Uses the “10 01” language but adds the restriction that liability which triggers coverage for the AI must arise “in whole or in part” by your actions or those acting on your behalf.  I.e., removes “sole negligence” coverage for the AI.
  • CG 20 10 04 13 & CG 20 37 04 13 – Uses the “07 04” language but adds the further restrictions that coverage is only provided to the AI is permissible by law and, if the AI status/coverage is dictated by contract, only to the extent required by the contract. E.g., if your contract only requires $500K of AI coverage but you have a $1M policy/AI endorsement, the endorsement will be limited to the contractually obligated amount.
  • CG 20 10 12 19 & CG 20 37 12 19 – Functionally equivalent to the “04 13” versions but an administrative clarification was made – the “Limits of Insurance” verbiage was amended to remove the reference to the limits “shown on the Declarations”; rather the endorsement merely states the AI coverage will not increase available limits (rather than “will not increase the limits [shown on the declarations]”. This is in recognition of the fact that limits can be amended by endorsement and thus the “hard” reference to the declarations may be in error. I am not aware of a lawsuit that prompted this but if you know of one please send my way!

The above endorsements are strictly “Scheduled” AI forms – meaning their technical use is limited to name a single, explicit entity to whom AI coverage is given. However it’s very common to have endorsements with manuscripted “blanket” language – for example the schedule might read “All parties with whom you have an executed written agreement to provide Additional Insured Coverage” or similar.

This is usually not a problem – and often the preferred way of writing these endorsements since many contractual parties want to see specific endorsement numbers – but it definitely can be. This is because each of these endorsements, even the “11 85”, has a limitation that states, essentially, coverage is limited to operations performed for the named Additional Insured. Here is the relevant text from the CG 20 10 12 19, emphasis added:

[…] in the performance of your ongoing operations for the additional insured(s) at the location(s) designated above.

Note the explicit reference to both the Additional Insured (and location).  This means that if your blanket language is insufficient, you could be leaving out a LOT of coverage for a LOT of third parties.

This is primarily a concern when the blanket language references only parties with whom you have a direct contractual relationship (privity).  For example, in Westfield Insurance v. FCL Builders, Inc. the insured’s “Blanket” wording read:

“A. Section IIWho Is an Insured is amended to include as an additional insured any person or organization for whom you are performing operations when you and such a person or organization have agreed in writing in a contract or agreement that such person or organization be added as an additional insured on your policy.”

Reading that via the “four corners” analysis (as insurance courts are designed to do), the only entities to whom that “blanket” AI language applies are those with whom you have a contractual agreement that such person or organization be added as an Additional Insured.

However, contracts require multiple third parties to be named as AI all the time – and an insured signing the contract typically doesn’t have a direct contractual relationship with these parties (say an owner, or bank). Because of this, the above blanket AI wording is limiting – it does not apply to those third parties whom you were obligated to add as AI but with whom you do not have contractual privity.

Because of this you must, must, must negotiate the proper “blanket” wording for AI forms. Simply securing the 10/01 or 11/85 editions is not enough – you must ensure it responds properly to all those entities to whom your insured is obligating themselves.

This privity concern is also a huge issue when ISO attempted to provide a standard “automatic” AI status. Firstly, ISO released such endorsement only for Ongoing Operations, then while they did finally release one for Completed Ops as well both contained the privity issue, necessitating another set of endorsements (automatic status for other parties). When this post is updated in the future we will review those endorsements (CG 20 33, CG 20 38, CG 20 39, CG 20 40). The “TL;DR” of that is that the combination of those will imitate CG 20 10/20 37 12 19, but if you need “old” coverage you’re stuck with the above scheduled forms until the cows come home.