Jim Porter: Death while on the job results in workers’ comp (opinion)
May 16, 2016
You are about to read a Law Review column on something of which I know nothing: workers' compensation. I don't know a lot of things; workers' compensation is near the top of the list.
But, let me tell you about workers' compensation.
Taking out the Garbage
Carlos Rodas, age 32, worked as a dishwasher at Guido's Restaurant. Rodas was taking out the garbage at work. He lifted a large rubber trash can, placed it on a flat dolly, then wheeled the trashcan and dolly to a dumpster about 300 feet away.
A substantial amount of blood and blood splatter was later found around the rubber trashcan. Rodas died from a pulmonary hemorrhage, caused in part because he had tuberculosis.
Workers' Compensation Law
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California sets up a workers' compensation system where liability exists "against an employer for any injury sustained by his or her employees arising out of or in the course of the employment without regard to negligence." Labor Code Section 3600.
The concept is that if you're injured on the job, your employer's workers' compensation insurance will automatically cover you.
This is to be distinguished from an injury unrelated to your workplace where you generally have to prove negligence, prove that someone did something wrong causing you injuries. Workers' compensation requires no fault on the part of the employer. Injured on the job, you are entitled to workers' compensation.
So the proverbial question when an injury to an employee occurs in or around his or her place of employment is, did the injury occur "in the course and scope of employment?"
Indeed, the question in the Rodas case was whether Carlos Rodas was injured in the course of his employment.
Rodas' doctor provided a medical opinion that his arteries were compromised by lesions caused by his tuberculosis and that the bleeding occurred because of pressure exerting the compromised arteries.
The doctor offered the inference that the pressure on the arteries was generated by coughing and/or by physical exertion, the coughing possibly caused by the smell from the trashcan, the physical exertion caused by lifting the trashcan onto the dolly and wheeling it 300 feet.
The Workers' Compensation Appeal Board denied the Rodas family's claim for workers' compensation, finding the expert doctor's opinion "speculative," not conclusively documenting that Rodas died in the course of his employment — wheeling out the restaurant garbage.
How would you rule?
Court of Appeal
The Second Appellate District Court of Appeal overturned the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board and ruled for the Rodas family.
The Court wrote that "all reasonable doubts as to whether an injury is compensable are to be resolved in favor of the employee … workers' compensation law 'shall be liberally construed by the courts with the purpose of extending their benefits for the protection of persons injured in the course of their employment' … A corollary of the no-fault principles of workers' compensation is that 'an employer takes the employee as he finds him at the time of the employment' and, thus, an employee may not be denied compensation merely because his physical condition was such that he sustained a disability which a person of stronger constitution or in better health would not have suffered.'"
So, if you have ever wondered about the basics of workers' compensation law, now you know.
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Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno, Nevada. Jim's practice areas include: development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at email@example.com or http://www.portersimon.com.
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