California Court of Appeal Holds Employee of Six Months Failed to Prove Psychiatric Injuries Resulted from a “Sudden and Extraordinary Condition”

Recently, the California Court of Appeals addressed a claim for workers’ compensation by an employee who had worked for his employer for 74 days before slipping and falling, resulting in numerous injuries.  In this case, the court asked whether the accident responsible for the employee’s psychiatric injuries was in fact “sudden and extraordinary,” according to the Labor Code.  The applicable section of the Labor Code provides that when an employee of less than six months is seeking to recover compensation for a psychiatric injury, the underlying accident causing the injury must have been sudden, rather than something that is common or routine to employment.

Mark Dreher worked as a live-in maintenance supervisor for an apartment complex owned by Alliance Residential.  While walking in the rain from one building to another in the complex, Mr. Dreher slipped and fell on a slippery concrete walkway.  At the time of the accident, Mr. Dreher had worked for Alliance for 74 days.

As a result of his fall, Mr. Dreher suffered a fractured pelvis, as well as neck, shoulder, leg, and knee injuries.  He also suffered a sleep disorder, gait derangement, and headaches.  He underwent multiple surgeries, including one to repair pelvic fractures and another to repair a torn meniscus.  His pain and limitations continued.

Mr. Dreher sought to be compensated for a psychiatric injury arising from the accident, and his evaluation concluded he suffered a psychiatric disability due to the accident, including depression and panic attacks.

The workers’ compensation administrative law judge found Mr. Dreher had sustained an injury arising out of and in the course of his employment.  But the WCJ denied his psychiatric injury claim, holding that it was barred by the Labor Code (section 3208.3 subdivision (d)), that he had not worked for Alliance for at least six months, and that his psychiatric injury did not result from a sudden and extraordinary employment condition.   Mr. Dreher petitioned for reconsideration, and the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board granted the petition, finding the injury was caused by an extraordinary employment condition and not barred.

On appeal, the California Court of Appeal stated the issue was whether Mr. Dreher’s injury was a “sudden and extraordinary employment condition,” as defined under Labor Code section 3208.3 subdivision (d). This section makes clear that employees who allege a psychiatric injury during the first six months of employment must prove that a sudden and extraordinary employment condition caused the injury.  Otherwise, the employee must have been employed by the employer for at least six months to recover compensation under this section.

The court stated that the purpose of section 3208.3 is to limit questionable claims for psychiatric injuries when those injuries result from common stressors during the first six months of a new job.   In other cases, the court stated that the extraordinary employment condition does not include accidental injuries.  Examples of extraordinary employment conditions include gas main explosions or workplace violence, but not routine types of stressors or employment events.

The court rejected Mr. Dreher’s contention that the unexpectedly catastrophic nature of his injury supported a finding of an extraordinary employment condition.  They stated that first, the plain meaning of the statute provides that the six-month time limit does not apply if the psychiatric condition resulted from a “sudden and extraordinary employment condition.”  But, the court stated, the statute does not specifically state the nature of the injury must be a factor.  According to the court, this was intentional on the part of the California legislature.

Here, Mr. Dreher’s injury was serious but did not constitute a sudden and extraordinary employment event, within the meaning of the Labor Code. Mr. Dreher routinely walked between buildings on concrete walkways, and his slip and fall while walking was the kind of accident that could be expected to take place.

Since Mr. Dreher, an employee of less than six months,  did not meet his burden of proving that a sudden and extraordinary condition caused his psychiatric injury, the court of appeal stated that his claim was barred by section 3208.3 subdivision (d) of the Labor Code.  The matter was remanded to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board with instructions to deny the psychiatric injury claim.

At Sharifi Firm, our Southern California workplace injury attorneys can help you or a loved one seek compensation for a job-related accident.  Our office can be reached by calling (866) 422-7222 or completing our online form to schedule a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

California Court of Appeals Applies Premises Line Rule to Determine Employee is Entitled to Workers’ Compensation Benefits, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, August 10, 2015

California Supreme Court Clarifies Appropriate Standard of Causation in Workers’ Compensation Death Case as Contributing, not Substantial Factor, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, August 6, 2015

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