California Lawsuit May Reshape Workers’ Compensation And Employers’ Liability

September 16, 2021
Sacks & Zolonz, LLP
Workers' Compensation Defense

Comprehensive workers’ compensation benefits have been around for over a hundred years, and, for the most part, it has operated in the same manner. COVID-19 may change that.

A lawsuit in California is underway that challenges a primary component to workers’ compensation and could potentially alter the entire system. At Sacks & Zolonz, LLP, our Los Angeles workers’ compensation defense attorneys understand the need to mitigate risk. Civil actions can be very costly. At worse, they can lead to the dissolution of an organization. Our risk management counseling services in LA can help you take a proactive approach to the changing landscape of workers’ compensation. Schedule a consultation today by calling 310-216-7778.

How Workers’ Compensation Is Departing From Traditional Fundamentals?

The concept of workers’ compensation made its way through the legal system and first became law in 1911, Wisconsin.

Referred to as the “Grand Bargain,” workers’ compensation began as a way for enterprises to manage risk if an employee became hurt on the job. At its roots, employers wanted protection from individual personal injury claims and agreed to compensate injured workers with medical care and payments.

With the rise of COVID-19, employee-focused legislation continues to pass that significantly impacts workers’ compensation. In 2020, Governor Newsom expanded access to benefits by “creating a rebuttable presumption.”

Traditionally, the burden of proof in workers’ compensation claims rested on the injured employees. However, “rebuttable presumption” entitles certain front-line workers, like health care workers and firefighters, to benefits without the necessity to prove exposure on the job. This was extended to employees in other areas whose workplace had experienced an outbreak.

Now the question is, should liability extend to the loved ones of employees if negligence is involved? Or should workers’ compensation protect companies under the “exclusive remedy” doctrine?

Lawsuit Against See’s Candies Challenges Fundamentals Of Workers’ Compensation

Matilde Ek and her daughters have brought a wrongful death suit against See’s Candies distribution center in Southern California. As an employee, Ek alleges that she was exposed to COVID-19 at the company due to unsafe conditions and infected her husband, Arturo Ek. The 72-year-old later died of the virus.

Ek claims that See’s Candies did not follow proper social distancing guidelines and safeguards despite other workers’ showing signs of the virus. Ek worked on the packing line and alleges employees were coughing and sneezing.

While See’s Candies has admitted that Ek contracted the virus on the job, the company stands by the doctrine of “exclusive remedy” and moved for the suit to be dismissed. A Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, Daniel M. Crowley, disagreed.

Instead, Judge Crowley sided with Ek’s attorney and concluded that her husband’s death was separate from her workplace infection. The lawsuit could redefine the protections companies have held for the last 110 years.

According to a study conducted by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, if the virus behaves like past lung and disease claims:

  • 2 out of every 100 cases may result in partial disability
  • 1 out of 2,000 cases may result in permanent total disability

Expanding legislation and narrowing the “exclusive remedy” doctrine could prove costly for California businesses.

Contact A Los Angeles Workers’ Compensation Defense Lawyer Today

Sacks & Zolonz, LLP has been helping companies in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas protect their bottom line and reduce their liability in harmful legal matters. Businesses can support their legal protections and mitigate exposure to costly lawsuits by taking advantage of our risk management counseling services.

Contact our Los Angeles workers’ compensation defense attorneys for a consultation of your case by clicking here or calling 310-216-7778. Call today for strategies to reduce your risk.

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