University of Vermont AAHS

Irish Hunt Farms v. Stafford

 

Delaware Superior Court
1999 WL 743445
August 27, 1999

 

For a later opinion in this lawsuit, go to Irish Hunt Farms v. Stafford

 

Summary of Opinion

Stafford was employed as an instructor and trainer at the defendant stables. She was injured and filed a worker’s compensation claim. The Board found in her favor against arguments that her injury did not occur while she was in the course of her employment, that she was an independent contractor rather than an employee, and that she was excluded from coverage as a farm laborer.

Irish Hunt Farms appealed. The Superior Court held that the Board’s decision was not so obviously correct as to permit it summarily to affirm it. The court, therefore, called for the parties to brief the case on the merits.

 

Text of Opinion

 

This 27th day of August, 1999, upon consideration of Suzanne Stafford's ("Claimant") Motion to Affirm the decision of the Industrial Accident Board ("Board"), it appears that:

1. Irish Hunt Farms ("Employer") is a horse farm in the business of breeding and boarding horses and providing horseback riding lessons. Employer hired Claimant full-time in 1997 to give riding lessons and to exercise and train horses owned by Employer. Claimant also took care of the lesson horses, cleaning, feeding, and grooming them. On June 3, 1997, Claimant injured her ankle when a horse, boarded at Irish Hunt Farms, fell on her leg as she attempted to mount the horse while assisting the horse's owner.

2. On July 7, 1998, Claimant filed a Rule to Show Cause with the Board, seeking an evidentiary hearing to determine whether she was in the course and scope of her employment at the time of her injury. Employer maintained that Claimant was acting as an independent contractor and that Employer's business is covered by the farm laborers' exception under 19 Del. C. 2307(b).[FN1]

FN1. Nineteen Del. C. s 2307(b) provides, "This chapter shall not apply to farm laborers or to their respective employers unless such an employer carries insurance to insure the payment of compensation to such employees or their dependents."

3. The Board held a hearing on November 19, 1998. The Board found that Claimant was an employee rather than an independent contractor at the time of the accident, that Claimant was acting within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident, and that the statutory exemption for farm laborers did not apply to Claimant. Employer filed a Motion for Reargument on December 18, 1998. The Board denied Employer's Motion on January 21, 1999.

4. Employer appealed the Board's decision, arguing that the Board erred as a matter of law in determining that the statutory exemption for farm laborers did not apply to claimant, that the Board committed legal error by failing to address Employer's argument that Claimant was acting outside the scope of her employment at the time of the accident, that the Board's determination that Claimant was an employee rather than an independent contractor was not based upon substantial evidence in the record, and that the Board hearing did not comport with fundamental fairness. Claimant responded with a Motion to Affirm, alleging that substantial evidence supported the Board's decision.

5. After review of the record and the parties' submissions, the Court cannot find that substantial evidence so clearly exists as to warrant a motion to affirm as the appropriate end to this litigation. Also, issues have been presented in this appeal alleging that the Board committed errors of law. The Court cannot find that these issues are so "clearly controlled by settled Delaware law" that the Court may decide this litigation based upon the papers already submitted.

6. As a result, Claimant's Motion to Affirm is DENIED and Claimant's Answering Brief is due within 20 days from the date of this Order and the Employer's Reply Brief is due within 10 days thereafter.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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