California Court of Appeals Denies “Power Press” Exception in Work Injury Case

The California Court of Appeals recently issued a ruling in what would ordinarily be considered a workers’ compensation case but for a personal injury exception regarding power presses.

In the case, Gonzalez v. Seal Methods, Inc., 223 Cal. App. 4th 405 (2014), the plaintiff was working for the defendant company in the operation of a power press, when her hand became severely injured by the machine that she was operating. She sued the company under a Labor Code section that allows for such suits in certain cases.

Ordinarily, under California law, when individuals are injured during the course of employment, workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy available. The employer assumes liability, and the employee does not have to prove fault. However, there are limited statutory exceptions to the workers’ compensation scheme, which are intended to compensate individuals in addition to workers’ compensation.

The power press exception is one such claim. It allows for an employee to bring a civil lawsuit against the employer in cases where the employee’s injuries were “proximately caused by the employer’s knowing removal of, or knowing failure to install, a point of operation guard on a power press,” when the “manufacturer [had] designed, installed, required or otherwise provided by specification for the attachment of the guards and conveyed knowledge of the same to the employer.” In other words, the injury was due to something the employer did to make the machine less safe.

However, in this case, the court found that the language of the exception required that the point of operation guard meant an element that was in some way permanently attached to the machine, not something that was used separately in the process.

In this case, the power press the plaintiff used apparently was used in tandem with some sort of safety block, which could be attached to the machine but was not a permanent part. Since the safety block did not fall within the strict statutory language, the court found that the employer was not at fault for the injury, and the plaintiff’s claim failed.

The court reviewed the language of the exception and found that the legislature’s intent was to implicate liability when there was some evidence that the employer took some affirmative action to make the machine less safe.

The Court of Appeals thus affirmed the lower court’s finding that the power press exception did not apply, and the plaintiff was not entitled to recover the additional damages for her serious injuries.

However, even though the plaintiff in this case was not able to recover from the employer for her injuries, she could potentially have a claim for products liability against the manufacturer, arguing that there were safer machines that did not have the separate blocks as in this case, for example.

The California work injury lawyers at Sharifi Firm, APC can help you navigate the often confusing world of filing a workers’ compensation claim. We are here to answer any questions that you have. Contact the experienced lawyers at Sharifi Firm, APC today! All of our services are free until we win you the settlement that you deserve. Call us today at (866) 422-7222 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 Fails to Find Duty to Preconceived Child in Workplace Chemical Exposure Case, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, published May 18, 2015

California Supreme Court Upholds Medical Malpractice Award, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, published May 14, 2015

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