California Court of Appeals Sides with City of San Jose Employee in Workers’ Compensation Case

In a recent workers’ compensation case, Meyers v. Board of Administration, etc., 224 Cal.App.4th 250 (2014), the California Court of Appeals (6th Dist.) analyzed the requirements necessary for a work-related injury retirement, and what an accommodation in that context actually means.

In the case, the employee, Mr. Meyers, began work for the City of San Jose as an associate construction inspector, and two years into his job he fell, hitting his back and elbow on the pavement. Meyers immediately sought treatment for neck and back pain, which ultimately required surgery during which three of his vertebrae were fused together.

Meyers eventually returned to work but continued to experience back pain and muscle spasms, for which he continued undergoing treatment and took pain medication.

He was later transferred to another department, and thus another position, but his back pain increased to the extent that he ended up in the emergency room at one point.

Shortly thereafter, he filed a workers’ compensation claim. Meyers was examined by two qualified medical examiners, who found that his new position required excessive bending, thus exacerbating his lower back pain. The doctor took Meyers off work at that time, due to his nearly intolerable and persistent pain. The doctor subsequently found that Meyers could not “bend, crawl, crouch, or kneel; lift or carry 25 pounds, etc..” The doctor later found that Meyers could not return to the job as a result of his disability, which he determined was caused by the initial workplace fall.

The City then “separated from” Meyers, stating that they did not have a position for him that could accommodate his restrictions. Meyers later filed for a service-connected disability retirement, but the board responsible for making those determinations denied his application. They stated that he had not established that he had a service-connected disability for retirement purposes. Meyers requested a re-hearing, which was also denied. He then appealed to the district court.

The court found that the board’s finding of the injury not being service-related was against the weight of the evidence and constituted error. However, it agreed with the board’s findings regarding the argument that they could have accommodated his work restrictions. Thus, the trial court found that, since his work restrictions could have been accommodated, he did not qualify for disability retirement benefits.

Thus, on appeal, the City argued that he was not eligible for the disability-related retirement because Meyers had not adequately demonstrated that he was no longer able to work in any position that the city might have had available, even though he wasn’t offered any other options. The employee argued that the determination as to whether he could have been successfully accommodated, that is to say whether he could continue to work in a position for the city, should have been determined upon the basis of whether he could have done so in an actual position that the city offered, which they did not. The court agreed with the employee’s argument, finding:

“Accordingly, we reject the Board’s reading of the municipal code as requiring only a theoretical accommodation, as that construction would render the Board’s factfinding mission impossible.”

The memorandum denying the retirement stated that the employee could have been accommodated, but it lacked any explanation of what an accommodation would have included, whether they could have altered his position, whether it could have transferred him to a new position, what duties that new position would have included, and so forth. In sum, its blanket assumption that in retrospect it could have accommodated him at the time of the separation did not rise to the level of substantial evidence that Meyers was physically able at that time to perform the duties of any position within that department.

Therefore, it disagreed with the trial court’s findings and remanded the case for a new hearing on the disability benefits application.

Have you been injured while on the job?  A work injury attorney in California can help you determine if you qualify for workers’ compensation. Contact the experienced lawyers at Sharifi Firm, APC today at 1-866-422-7222.  All of our services are free until we win you the settlement that you deserve.  Call us for a free, no-obligation consultation to find out how we can help you resolve your workers’ compensation claim.

More Blog Posts:

California Court of Appeals Issues Ruling in Medical Malpractice Wrongful Death Case, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, published March 6, 2015

California Court of Appeal Sides with Target in Slip and Fall Ruling, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, published March 3, 2015

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