Yesterday, we looked at a case in which a brand-new agricultural worker fell off a high ladder, sustaining both physical and psychiatric injuries. Normally a worker has to be with an employer for at least six months to recover for psychiatric injuries—what did the court conclude in this case?
For the case background, click here.
Home Depot Case Was Different, Court Concludes
The court distinguished a case in which a rack of lumber suddenly fell on a Home Depot manager-trainee’s leg while he was in a store aisle.
For one thing, that accident occurred in a store aisle that was open to the public, making it safe to assume that incidents of falling lumber were “quite rare.”
Moreover, the injury happened when the wall shelf holding up the rack of lumber collapsed without warning. The lumber presumably would have struck anyone who happened to be in the aisle at the time.
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Garcia’s injury, on the other hand, didn’t occur in a public area or an area shielded from the typical hazards of his job. To the contrary, it was sustained in the avocado grove where he and his coworkers were picking fruit from high trees while standing on tall ladders.
A fall under these circumstances couldn’t be described as an uncommon, unusual, and totally unexpected occurrence. Rather, it was a hazard of performing work above ground level.
The Burden Is on the Employee
Perhaps most notably, the Court of Appeals made clear that it wasn’t up to the employer to introduce evidence that such falls weren’t extraordinary but an industry hazard.
The burden was on the employee to show that his psychiatric injury was caused by a sudden and extraordinary employment event that triggered the exception.
(State Compensation Insurance Fund v W.C.A.B. (Garcia), Calif. Court of Appeals (Dist. 2) No. B235258, 2012)
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What I find troubling about this case is that the WCAB didn't know that the employee had the burden of proof, not the employer, so the employer had to go to the time and trouble of pursuing this in the courts to get justice. Seems like the WCAB should know the law.