When a worker sustains an injury at work, it’s not always just the body that gets hurt—you may also be facing a claim for psychiatric injury. Today and tomorrow, we’ll look at a new case that helps clarify exactly when you may be liable for these sorts of injuries for new workers.
Avocado Picker Falls from Ladder
Rigoberto Garcia started working for Cole Ranch as an avocado picker/high tree worker in May 2010. About two months later, he fell from the top of 14-foot ladder while picking avocados from a 35-foot tree.
Garcia suffered a serious and obvious head injury and sought workers’ compensation benefits for injury to his teeth, neck, back, and psyche.
The employer’s insurer, State Compensation Insurance Fund (SCIF), denied liability for the psychiatric injury because Garcia had not worked for the employer for at least six months, as required by Section 3208.3(d) of the California Labor Code.
‘Sudden and Extraordinary’?
The workers’ compensation judge found that SCIF was liable because the injury was caused by a “sudden and extraordinary employment condition.” SCIF asked the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) to reconsider the case, but the WCAB rejected the request, pointing to SCIF’s failure to provide any evidence that the injury wasn’t extraordinary. (Because SCIF didn’t dispute that the fall was sudden, the only issue here was whether it was extraordinary.)
Garcia subsequently appealed to the state Court of Appeals.
Your complete reference guide to workers’ comp in California—find out more!
Falling Lumber Satisfies Exception, Court Says
Section 3208.3(d) provides an exception from the six-month-employment requirement for psychiatric injuries caused by a sudden and extraordinary employment condition. As the Court of Appeals explained, the exception encompasses “the type of events that would naturally be expected to cause psychic disturbances even in a diligent and honest employee.”
The event must be uncommon, unusual, and occur unexpectedly. The commonly cited examples are gas main explosions or episodes of workplace violence.
The court, however, emphasized that the exception could also apply to accidental injuries. In one case, for example, a rack of lumber suddenly fell on a manager-trainee’s leg while he was in a Home Depot store aisle.
In the absence of evidence that such occurrences were regular or routine, the Court of Appeals found that the trainee had satisfied his burden of proving that his injury was the result of a sudden and extraordinary employment condition.
So what did the court conclude in Garcia’s case? Tune in tomorrow to find out.
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Psychiatric claims are such a headache. Hey--think I can get workers' comp for that headache?