California Court Holds Employee’s Negligence Claim Against Employer Barred by Workers’ Compensation Act

Recently, a California Court of Appeal addressed the issue of whether the California Workers’ Compensation Act barred a negligence claim brought by an injured employee against his employer for negligence.  In this opinion, the appellate court looked at whether the claim arose out of and in the course of employment, and it stated that the degree of negligence on behalf of the employer did not affect a determination of whether the exclusivity provision applied.

Paul Friend worked as a tow truck driver for GBWY and alleged that he suffered injuries at work when a metal folding chair he was sitting on collapsed underneath him.  Mr. Friend claimed that the negligence of defendants William Kang and GBWY Investment Group caused his injury.  The defendants moved for summary judgment on the ground that workers’ compensation was Mr. Friend’s exclusive remedy. The trial court granted summary judgment and dismissed the claim.

Mr. Friend appealed on the ground that summary judgment was improper because there was a factual dispute as to whether the defendants were in fact Mr. Friend’s employer, and whether Mr. Kang owned the chair that caused his injury.  When the defendants moved for summary judgment, they had the burden of proving that one or more elements of negligence could not be established, or there was a complete defense to the negligence claim. The burden then shifted to Mr. Friend to show a triable issue of fact regarding the negligence claim.

The appellate court stated the procedural history, noting that the trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary adjudication on Mr. Friend’s negligence claim because he could not show that Mr. Kang personally owned the chair.  Here, the standard of review for a trial court’s decision to grant or deny the summary judgment motion is de novo, examining the evidence and using an independent determination of its effect.

On appeal, the only issue was whether the trial court erred in granting the defendants’ summary judgment motion on the negligence claim.  The rule is that workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy for injured employees against their employers for injuries “arising out of and in the course of employment.”  When an employee has a claim based on the employer’s alleged negligence, the claim falls under the exclusivity of the Workers’ Compensation Act.

In this case, the facts demonstrated that Mr. Friend’s injury was compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act.  His negligence claim was therefore barred by the exclusivity provisions.  Mr. Kang was the owner of GBWY, and Mr. Friend alleged in his complaint that he was an employee of GBWY. He stated that he was injured upon “returning to work” and that the chair that collapsed had been negligently repaired by Mr. Kang, his employer. Since the Workers’ Compensation Act applies to any workplace injuries caused by an employer’s negligence, the Act applied to Mr. Friend’s injury. The appellate court also noted that Mr. Friend’s paychecks come from GBWY, and Mr. Friend stated GBWY was his employer on his workers’ compensation claim form.

The court also addressed Mr. Friend’s claim that Mr. Kang took personal delivery of the chair and that it therefore belonged to Mr. Kang rather than GBWY.  Here, the material facts were that Mr. Kang provided the chair at the workplace, and the chair allegedly injured an employee. Even if Mr. Kang was grossly negligent or intentionally provided the defective chair, workers’ compensation would be Mr. Friend’s exclusive remedy against his employer.

Here, it did not matter whether Mr. Kang was negligent in order for the Workers’ Compensation Act’s exclusivity provision to apply.  The appellate court held that the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment for the defendants. The court affirmed the judgment of the lower court.

At Sharifi Firm, our attorneys help victims of workplace accidents throughout Southern California assert their right to compensation. We provide a free, confidential consultation and can be reached by calling 866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Provides Leave to Amend Complaint When Plaintiff Potentially Alleged Non-Preempted Claim Under Workers Compensation Act, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, January 7, 2016

California Court Holds State Workers’ Compensation System Provides Injured Employees Ample Opportunity for Review and Does Not Violate State Constitution, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, November 17, 2015

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