You Be the Judge

Is a Student an Employee of a Martial Arts Academy?

A injured student at a martial arts studio claims he is an employee for the purposes of workers' comp.
By: | April 21, 2014 • 2 min read

A martial arts student and member of the “black belt club” at Fred Bauer’s Martial Arts Academy was an assistant instructor for lower ranked students. Experienced academy students customarily instructed other students as part of their own development. The student was given a key to the studio, along with five other students.

The student arrived at the academy and opened the studio, having agreed to fill in for another student who had volunteered to instruct a class. A car barreled through the studio’s window that faced the parking lot, striking the student.

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The student sought workers’ compensation benefits. The academy asserted that he was not covered by workers’ compensation because no employment relationship existed. The student said that he received reduced monthly tuition rates for himself and his son. The academy owner said that the student assisted with training others but did not receive complimentary or reduced-cost lessons in exchange for doing so. The student did not produce evidence at trial showing that he received compensation from the academy.

The student did not include the academy on a list of employers in documents related to his separate lawsuit against the driver of the car. He also did not mention the academy when asked on direct examination at trial about his employment at the time of the accident. The student did not report his alleged employment with the academy on his tax returns or credit card, job, and home refinancing applications.

The trial court concluded that the student did not establish that he was an employee of the academy and dismissed his claim for benefits. The student appealed, arguing that an employment contract existed and that the trial court failed to recognize that a bartering arrangement could qualify as compensation sufficient to establish an employment relationship.

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The court explained that when evaluating whether an employment relationship existed the emphasis is on whether the parties entered into a contract for hire. The court explained that while forms of consideration other than a paycheck can serve to establish an employment relationship, the student did not establish that a bartering arrangement existed. Therefore, the student and academy had not entered into a contract for hire.

How the court ruled: A. The Ohio Court of Appeals held that a the student did not establish that he was an employee at the time his injuries occurred and affirmed the dismissal of his claim. Beal v. Fred Bauer a/k/a Bauer’s Martial Arts Academy, No. C-130258 (Ohio Ct. App. 02/21/14).

B is incorrect. The court found conflicting evidence as to whether an employment contract existed. The trial court properly weighed the evidence and resolved the conflicting testimony in favor of the academy.

C is incorrect. The court found that the student did not establish that a bartering arrangement existed.

Editor’s note: This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.

Christina Lumbreras is a Legal Editor for Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]