A panel of judges threw out a city man’s $120,429 work injury judgement against a Paterson auto repair shop, according to court records.
Pedro Liranzo had won the case in Mar. 2018 after claiming he had injured himself while working for Morales Auto Repair on Bridge Street. Appellate judges Garry S. Rothstadt and Stephanie Ann Mitterhoff reversed the decision on Feb. 14.
“In this contested matter in which the two witnesses told completely different stories about Liranzo’s employment status, the judge of compensation made no credibility findings, other than stating Morales confirmed some aspects of Liranzo’s testimony, such as that he was hired and paid in cash. The judge also failed to make any effort to apply whatever facts he found to the applicable law,” wrote the judges.
Liranzo and Junior Morales, owner of Morales Auto Repair, gave conflicting testimonies before the workers’ compensation judge. Liranzo filed for workers’ compensation benefits against Morales in 2012 after injuring his right hand following a fall off a ladder while working at the auto repair shop.
Morales denied Liranzo was an employee and rejected the claim. At a two-day trial in 2017, Liranzo said in Nov. 2011 he was introduced to Morales by a friend because he had experience working on car tires. He had been laid off by Frost King and had been looking for work. Both men met at the Bridge Street shop. Liranzo claims Morales hired him for $350 per week for general mechanic work such as balancing tires, tune ups, and maintaining transmissions. He claims he was given a blue uniform with the business’s name on it.
First week on the job, Liranzo claims, Morales asked him to install a sign. As he was installing the sign, he fell sustaining injuries to his right hand. He had to be taken to a hospital and received a pain injection and had surgery the next day. He underwent physical therapy through Aug. 10, 2012. He lost some functionality in his right hand, according to court records.
Liranzo secured unemployment benefits for the next two years based on his previous employment with Frost King. He testified Morales paid him in cash and knew he could not collect benefits based on work for the auto repair shop.
Morales had an entirely different version of the story for the judge. He claimed Liranzo was hired to clean up the newly leased property on Bridge Street for a one-time $1,000 payment. He had yet to start operation at the location, he told the judge. Morales stated Liranzo worked by himself at the Bridge Street location. Liranzo was never given a uniform, brought in his own tools for work, and was never asked to install the sign, according to Morales.
Morales hired another person to finish the job. However, he continued to call Liranzo to check on him and gave him $500 in four separate payments for pain medications.
After hearing testimonies from both Morals and Liranzo, the workers’ compensation judge ruled in favor of Liranzo. He was awarded a $120,429 judgment for permanent disability, temporary disability, medical fees, hospital expenses, attorney fees, and legal reimbursements.
The judge reasoned Liranzo was an employee rather than an independent contractor. Appellate judges could not determine whether Liranzo was an employee. Their opinion suggests the judge failed to draw legal conclusions from the facts uncovered at the trial.
A judge has to apply 12 factors, including control of means and manner of worker’s performance and who furnishes the equipment, to determine whether a worker is an employee under the Workers’ Compensation Act.
The panel sent the case back for reconsideration and issuance of a “new judgment supported by a written or oral decision with the requisite credibility determinations, findings of fact, and conclusions of law.”
The man allegedly injured at the auto repair shop is not the city’s taxi enforcement director Pedro Liranzo. The taxi director said the other Liranzo is not related to him.
Updated 10:30 a.m.