California Supreme Court Reviews Workers’ Compensation Laws and Benefits for Police Officers, Holds That Sworn, Salaried Officers Not Entitled to Maximum Indemnity Benefits

In a recent case before the California Supreme Court, the court reviewed the legislative history of workers’ compensation provided to police officers.  Labor Code section 4458.2 sets forth workers’ compensation benefits for certain peace (police) officers injured in the course and scope of their employment.  The issue before the court centered on whether volunteer police officers and regularly sworn, salaried officers received the same maximum disability indemnity levels.

Officer John Larkin was employed as a police officer by the City of Marysville.  In the course of duty, he suffered injuries to his face and body. A workers’ compensation judge held that Mr. Larkin was entitled to workers’ compensation benefits but not maximum indemnity levels under section 4458.2.

Mr. Larkin petitioned for reconsideration, arguing that sworn, salaried police officers were entitled to maximum indemnity levels.  The Board denied his petition, finding that the judge’s reasoning was persuasive.  The Court of Appeal affirmed this order, basing their finding on the notion that providing maximum benefits to volunteers encouraged volunteer service.  Since Mr. Larkin was a sworn, salaried employee, he was entitled to the full range of workers’ compensation benefits.

The Court of Appeal held that the legislative intent behind section 4458.2 was to encourage volunteer service in support of police and fire agencies.  Mr. Larkin then appealed. He contended that a plain reading of the statute made clear that it applied. The City of Marysville argued that section 4458.2 must be read in conjunction with section 3362, referenced therein.

Turning to the text and structure of the statutes, the California Supreme Court stated that volunteers were not initially covered by workers’ compensation laws, and the result had been a gap in coverage.  As a remedy, the Legislature adopted statutes defining the volunteers as “employees” in order to receive benefits. Section 3362 was a statute that provided workers’ compensation benefits to volunteers.

The court also stated that section 4458.2 provides maximum indemnity levels to firefighters, compensating them for lost earnings and strengthening incentives to volunteer. Section 4458.2 also assures that volunteer peace officers will receive benefits.

Next, the court considered the legislative history of sections 3362 and 4458.2.  The court stated that the concern with the treatment of volunteers guided the bills. They acknowledge that the word “volunteer” was removed from section 4458.2, which may suggest an intention to broaden its reach. However, the court stated this removal was simply to eliminate redundancy. Furthermore, if the scope of the bill was intended to broaden, the court stated this would have been clearly indicated.

The court concluded that construing the statutes according to Mr. Larkin’s understanding defeats the framework of the workers’ compensation scheme and thwarts the legislature’s purposes.  They also held that section 4458.2 does not extend maximum disability indemnity to regularly sworn, salaried police officers.  The California Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeal’s judgment.

At Sharifi Firm, our workers’ compensation attorneys help injured employees secure compensation following an accident. Contact our office for a free, confidential consultation by calling 866.422.7222.

More Blog Posts:

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

California Court of Appeals Denies “Power Press” Exception in Work Injury Case, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, May 22, 2015

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