The first application of the new precludable independent contractor rule

W & Z Acupuncture, P.C. v Unitrin Auto & Home Ins. Co., 2012 NY Slip Op 52400(U)(2d Dept. 2012)

Insurance carrier sought an EBT of the medical provider based upon the “independent contractor” defense.  Until three months ago, this defense escaped preservation.  Not so anymore.   The Court was therefore constrained to reverse the Civil Court:

“In an affirmation in support of defendant’s motion to compel, defendant’s attorney argued that the treating acupuncturists were not plaintiff’s employees; rather, they were independent [*2]contractors and, therefore, plaintiff was ineligible to recover the assigned no-fault benefits at issue. However, defendant’s denial of claim forms did not deny plaintiff’s claims on the ground that the treatment at issue had been rendered by independent contractors. Therefore, defendant is precluded from asserting that ground for denial of coverage as a defense in this litigation (A.M. Med. Servs., P.C. v Progressive Cas. Ins. Co., ___ AD3d ___, 2012 NY Slip Op 06902 [2d Dept, Oct 17, 2012]). Consequently, the branch of defendant’s motion seeking to compel plaintiff to appear for an EBT in support of this defense should have been denied, as this discovery demand is palpably improper.”

The independent contractor "defense" is sufficient to non-suit a plaintiff under CPLR 3211(a)(7)

Health & Endurance Med., P.C. v Travelers Prop. Cas. Ins. Co., 2011 NY Slip Op 51120(U)(App. Term 2d Dept. 2011)

Contrary to plaintiff’s contention, defendant was permitted to move to dismiss on the ground that the complaint fails to state a cause of action notwithstanding defendant’s service of an answer (CPLR 3211 [a] [7]; [e]). Plaintiff’s claim forms state that the services at issue were rendered by an independent contractor. Where services are rendered by an independent contractor, the independent contractor is the provider entitled to the payment of the assigned first-party no-fault benefits (see Rockaway Blvd. Med. P.C. v Progressive Ins., 9 Misc 3d 52 [App Term, 2d & 11th Jud Dists 2005]). This court has held that a statement in a claim form, that the services were provided by an independent contractor, may not be corrected once litigation has commenced, even if the statement was erroneous (A.M. Med. Servs., P.C. v Progressive Cas. Ins. Co., 22 Misc 3d 70 [App Term, 2d, 11th & 13th Jud Dists 2009]). Thus, defendant has conclusively demonstrated that plaintiff is not the provider entitled to payment of the assigned first-party no-fault benefits (A.M. Med. Servs., P.C., 22 Misc 3d 70; Rockaway [*2]
Blvd. Med. P.C., 9 Misc 3d 52), and defendant’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action should have been granted (see CPLR 3211 [a] [7])”

Estoppel through Box #16

Some practioners called Box #16 the trap box. Hit independent contractor and you are dead. I always said wait a second. Just resubmit the bill, give a justification and you should get around the 45-day rule. However, do not make the mistake too often or the 45-day rule may become absolute. I also have said that on certain fee code issues, i.e., the “BR” codes, the same rule applies. Resubmit with the pertinent documentation and you should be alright.

Yet, there was always a displeasure I has towards Box #16 issues when the Claimant decided to fight the independent contractor issue through affidavit. The reason, as the Appellate Term said, was that all other defenses would be waived.

A.M. Med. Servs., P.C. v Progressive Cas. Ins. Co.
2008 NYSlipOp 28528 (App. Term 2d Dept. 2008)

“In the case at bar, the claim forms at issue state that the treating professionals were independent contractors. Contrary to plaintiff’s contention, the allegation that said treating professionals were actually employees, and that the claim forms contain misinformation, is irrelevant. Plaintiff did not submit bills that entitled it to payment, and correction of the defect involved herein should not be permitted once litigation has been commenced”

The Court then said something which I found fasciniating and I think can be used in a litany of situations:

“An insurer should be able to rely on the assertions in the claim form, and, in keeping with the aim of “provid[ing] substantial premium savings to New York motorists” (Matter of Medical Socy. of State of N.Y. v Serio, 100 NY2d 854, 860 [2003]), should be able to handle a claim for services rendered by an independent contractor accordingly without engaging in further consideration of the claim. An insurer is not obliged to issue a denial in order to assert the non-precludable, independent contractor defense. Consequently, if a provider were to be permitted to demonstrate during litigation that the claim form was incorrect and services were, in fact, rendered by an employee, not only would the insurer, which exercised its option not to expend further efforts to defend a facially meritless claim, have lost its opportunity to conduct meaningful claims verification, but also its decision not to issue a denial would result in its preclusion from introducing most defenses”