Earl Dwain Willis v. Express Towing

Feb 21, 2017 | Featured, News, Workers' Compensation

By Jared S. Renfroe

Earl Dwain Willis v. Express Towing

Docket No. 2016-06-0702

State File No. 30458-2016

Filed February 9, 2017


In this case, the Appeals Board was called upon to decide whether an employer employed five or more employees to trigger the requirement that the employer maintains workers’ compensation insurance.


For purposes of this appeal, there is no dispute that a compensable injury occurred. The issue is whether the employee was an employee of Express Towing. The facts of the case are dense, so the reader is encouraged to read the full opinion for the entire recitation of the facts. For purposes of this summary, the facts are essential that Mr. Mann was the owner of Express Towing, which was operated out of Sumner County, Tennessee.

However, Mr. Copeland, who hired the employee, operated a tow truck business under the same name—Express Towing—with the express permission of Mr. Mann. Mr. Copeland paid a percentage of his receipts to Mr. Mann in exchange for using the Express Towing logo and business name, license, and being insured under Mr. Mann’s insurance policy. Mr. Mann asserted that he had two employees, including himself. Mr. Copeland asserted that he also had two employees – himself and the employee. However, they each denied that they were part of the same business enterprise.


Initially, an expedited hearing was held, and the only witness to testify was the employee. The trial court ruled in the employee’s favor, and the employer appealed but also filed a Motion to Remand/Vacate the Order of the trial court. The Appeals Board held the initial appeal in abeyance, and the trial court convened a second expedited hearing.

At this second hearing, seven witnesses testified, including several possible employees of Express Towing. The trial court heard the testimony and again ruled in favor of the employee, holding that Mr. Mann and Mr. Copeland were both operating businesses of the same enterprise, thus employing more than five people.


The Appeals Board did an excellent job of reciting the pertinent facts into a rather concise opinion, considering the procedural history and the numerous witnesses who testified at the expedited hearings. The Appeals Board affirmed the decision of the trial court that the businesses operated by Mr. Copeland and Mr. Mann were of the same enterprise, concluding that the evidence did not preponderate against this finding, although noting contrary evidence did exist.

Furthermore, the Appeals Board explained that the Tennessee Supreme Court has stated that “payment, to satisfy the requirement of a contract of hire, need not be in money, but may be in anything of value.” Thus, it found that the testimony of one witness who testified that he occasionally answered their phones, released impounded cars, and watched over the premises in exchange for being allowed to live rent-free on the Express Towing property made him an employee, satisfying the five-employee threshold.


Jared S. Renfroe is an attorney for Spicer Rudstrom PLLC. He focuses his legal practice on litigation throughout Tennessee. He concentrates primarily on premises liability, business and commercial representation, employment practices litigation, professional liability, insurance defense, and workers’ compensation.


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