A judge has rejected an attempt to reverse penalties imposed against a company whose contract firefighter died during the Northern California wildfires in October.
Garrett Paiz, 38, died when the tanker he was operating while working for Tehama Transport rolled over in Napa County during the Nuns Fire.
Tehama Transport was fined by California workplace regulators because they failed to carry workers’ compensation insurance, according to KQED.com.
Tehama appealed the fine, citing that it’s workers are not employees. They are classified as independent contractors who are not subject to certain state employment laws, Tehama officials said.
The hearing officer rejected those arguments and upheld the sanctions imposed by the state Labor Commissioner’s Office.
The company’s lawyer, Scott Rubright, told the court that small agencies like Tehama would go out of business if they had to pay for workers’ compensation. That could create a problem for needed firefighting resources during peak times.
“Due to the wildly uncertain nature of the emergency firefighting component of Tehama Transport’s business, it is impossible for Tehama Transport to maintain actual firefighting employees on an employee payroll,” Rubright said.
UC Hastings College of the Law professor Veena Dubal warned that contract agencies must watch this case to protect all sides in the future.
“This is a dangerous job,” Dubal said. “Your workers are likely to be injured and if they are injured, you need to be carrying workers’ compensation insurance.”