Skydiver body not ‘equipment’ for deciding employee status – Business Insurance

The “bodies” of skydiving instructors cannot be considered equipment for determining independent contractor status, the Idaho Supreme Court held Thursday in a challenge filed against a skydiving company by the Idaho Industrial Commission.

In State Ex Rel. Industrial Commission v. Sky Down Skydiving LLC, the justices unanimously held that a magistrate judge erred in his analysis of whether a group of skydiving instructors were employees and should be covered by workers compensation.

Sky Down Skydiving LLC, owned and operated by a married couple, operates a licensed skydiving training center in Canyon County, Idaho, and provides skydiving training and tandem jumps. The couple said they employed no workers — paying skydiving instructors per jump and parachutes packers per chute — and therefore did not need to carry workers compensation insurance. The commission filed a complaint against the company seeking penalties and injunctive relief for the lack of comp insurance, but a magistrate judge found that the workers were independent contractors and dismissed the complaint, and a district court affirmed the decision.

The commission then appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court, which reversed and remanded the lower court’s decision on the basis that the court failed to apply the proper test for determining whether the diving instructors and parachute packers were properly classified as independent contractors. The court held that the magistrate judge erred when he found that skydiving instructors’ own bodies were evidence that they supplied vital tools for each jump and as a result did not meet the statutory definition of an employee. “Human bodies of the instructors are no less a piece of equipment than the airplane that took them up to the appropriate altitude,” the magistrate judge said.

The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that other courts have stated that a “worker’s body is not a major item of equipment within the meaning of the third element of the `right to control’ test” in determining if an employment relationship exists.

“The fact that workers use their bodies skillfully is obviously important, but it does not make their bodies ‘major items of equipment,’” said the court. “…(A) worker’s use of their own body does not meaningfully contribute to the analysis of whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor.”

The court also held that the lower court erred in relying on the fact that the company paid the workers as independent contractors, holding that “the mere presence of a 1099 form does not outweigh the supply of airplanes and parachutes, nor does it singlehandedly tip the scale.”