Articles Posted in Workers’ Compensation

The California Court of Appeal recently addressed the issue of whether an employer can be held liable for injuries caused by an employee under the doctrine of respondeat superior.  In this unpublished opinion, the court assessed whether the going and coming rule applied to an employee who provided two other employees a ride to their employer-paid hotel and caused a traffic accident as they were driving home from work.

The trial court in this case applied the going and coming rule after the employer moved for summary judgment and the plaintiff moved for summary adjudication.  The court had focused on the facts that the employees were responsible for arranging and paying for their transportation from the employer-provided hotel to the job site, the employer had not required employees to rideshare or carpool, and the employer did not benefit, even incidentally, from the ridesharing arrangement of the employees.

The employer in this case was Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co. (H&P), a company that operates oil drilling rigs, including those in Kern County.  Employees work a shift, called a “hitch” for the drilling rigs, which is a 12-hour day for 14 days, followed by 14 days off. The defendant employer provides hotel arrangements, should the employees want to stay close to the drilling site.  Employees are responsible for paying for their transportation to and from the hotel and the job site.

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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.

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In a recent case, the California Court of Appeal addressed whether an injury that led to an employee’s death occurred in the course and scope of his employment.  The court here examined the weight of circumstantial evidence, particularly in light of the fact that proving industrial causation is difficult in the case of a death.  Inferences must be reasonable, but the court stated it is not required that the plaintiff show an inference in his favor is the only one that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence.

Carlos Ivan Rodas, age 32, worked as a dishwasher at Guidos Restaurant. Mr. Rodas died from a pulmonary hemorrhage while taking out the trash at work.  He had been wheeling an overflowing trashcan on a dolly to the dumpster. Mr. Rodas’ family retained an internal medicine doctor to opine on the cause of Mr. Rodas’ death.  Dr. Ronald Zlotolow, M.D., opined that coughing, brought on by the trash odors, or the lifting of heavy garbage, caused Mr. Rodas’ bleeding.

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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.

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A case before the California Court of Appeal addressed the circumstances in which a stipulated award could be rescinded or revised.  In this workers’ compensation lawsuit, the parties had entered a stipulation based on the evidence demonstrating the injured plaintiff’s temporary disability.  At the time, a test had been completed showing a different disability level, but the results of that test were not factored into the award. The employee petitioned to reopen, on the grounds that his condition had worsened.  On appeal, the court found the employee had shown that the award should have been revised because it was inequitable.

Leopoldo Benavides, a roofer, fell off an angled roof in the course of his job, fracturing his ankle and injuring his back.   An agreed medical evaluator (AME) evaluated Mr. Benavides and found that his lumbar spine had a compression fracture, and he had residual weakness in his right ankle. He gave a 21 percent whole person impairment for Mr. Benavides’ spine.

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In a recent case before the California Court of Appeal, the court addressed whether personal injury claims against an employer were preempted by the Workers’ Compensation Act.  The injured employee in this case alleged professional negligence, emotional distress, and other causes of action stemming from injuries he suffered after his employer’s physicians both terminated his prescription medication and failed to indicate the need to wean off the medication. Additionally, the court also analyzed whether a duty of care existed between the plaintiff and the physicians reviewing the plaintiff’s use of a prescription medication.

Plaintiff Kirk King brought a lawsuit against CompPartners, Inc. and Naresh Sharma, M.D., alleging negligence, professional negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Mr. King’s wife, Sara King, sued the defendants for loss of consortium.  The trial court sustained the defendants’ demurrer without leave to amend.

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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.

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In a recent case before the California Court of Appeal, the court addressed an injured employee’s claim that the workers’ compensation process of independent medical review (IMR) was unconstitutional. The court reviewed the legislative reforms to the workers’ compensation system and analyzed the history of an injured employee’s challenge to a denial of a request for medical treatment.  Ultimately, the court determined that injured workers were provided more opportunity for review of their medical claims through constitutional state reforms to the workers’ compensation system.

Frances Stevens injured her right foot while working as an editor for Outspoken Enterprises. After undergoing three surgeries on her foot, she was unable to return to work. The pain in her feet forced her to use a wheelchair, leading to low back and shoulder pain, as well as eventually severe depression. After a trial in 2013, a workers’ compensation judge held that Ms. Stevens was permanently totally disabled.

Outspoken Enterprises was insured by the State Compensation Insurance Fund. They accepted responsibility for her medical care and covered extensive medical care for her. Ms. Stevens’ physician requested approval for her to receive four prescription medications to alleviate her pain.  He also sought approval for home health aide services, eight hours a day, five days a week.  His request was processed under utilization review (UR) and reviewed by another doctor. This doctor eventually denied the request and maintained that a home health aide was not warranted because the evidence did not show that Ms. Stevens was home-bound or that she required home medical care.

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In a recent California Court of Appeal case, an injured worker requested that the court address what she perceived as an inconsistency in the workers’ compensation laws regarding admissible evidence.  The Legislature has declared that the opinion of a privately retained expert who has evaluated an injured worker may not be admitted as evidence before the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board.

Margaret Batten alleged that she suffered a workplace injury in the course and scope of her employment as a registered nurse for Long Beach Memorial Hospital. She claimed injuries to her jaw, knees, neck, and lower back. She also claimed that she suffered psychological harm due to her physical injuries.

An initial evaluation by a psychiatric panel’s qualified medical examiner, Dr. Joseph Stapen, suggested that Ms. Batten’s injuries were not compensable because they were not caused by industrial factors.  The Workers’ Compensation Judge authorized Ms. Batten to retain her own qualified medical expert, at her own expense, according to Labor Code section 4064(d). Dr. Gary Stanwyck opined that Ms. Batten’s psychiatric condition was due to work-related injuries, and therefore it was compensable.

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In a recent opinion, the California Court of Appeals determined the state had a legitimate interest in a work-related injury suffered by an employee of a California corporation. A former basketball player suffered injuries while playing for a California team and then intermittently playing in the state while employed by other teams.   The issue before the court was whether the state had a sufficient relationship with the player’s injuries to make the application of California’s workers’ compensation laws reasonable.

The petitioner, the New York Knicks, is a professional basketball team in the National Basketball Association. They filed a petition for a writ of review against the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (Board), the Los Angeles Clippers, the Atlanta Hawks, the Insurance Company of North America, and Durand Macklin. The NBA challenged the jurisdiction of the Board concerning a claim for accumulated injuries by Mr. Macklin, a former NBA basketball player from 1981-1984.

Mr. Macklin allegedly suffered cumulative trauma injury from his work as a professional basketball player for multiple NBA teams. The period of trauma ran for four years, and Mr. Macklin played for the Atlanta Hawks, the Albany Patroons, and the Los Angeles Clippers over the course of this period.

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