Psychiatric injury is supported by substantial medical evidence and compensable on applicant’s unrebutted testimony

This is a Board Panel decision

This is a very significant case for workers’ compensation principles.

              The applicant filed a psychiatric/stress claim covering a period of 2009 through February 12, 2020. The applicant claimed he was denied two promotions. He claimed he was being characterized as a racist at work. He indicated he had negative performance evaluations after having written a whistleblower letter.

The primary treating physician (PTP) determined that the applicant had a psychiatric injury based on four specific work events that caused 90 per cent of applicant’s psychiatric injury.

The Qualified Medical Examiner (QME) determined the applicant had not suffered a psychiatric injury.  The QME determined the applicant had a long-standing personality disorder which likely developed in adolescence.

At trial the Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ) rejected the QME report as not substantial medical evidence and relied on the PTP. The WCJ concluded the applicant’s testimony was objective evidence and it was credible and unrebutted by the defense.

The defendant filed a petition for reconsideration. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB)  agreed with the WCJ that the defense failed to present evidence that their actions were lawful, nondiscriminatory, good faith personnel  actions. Therefore, the case was compensable.

Larson V. County of Los Angeles Department of Regional Planning

 Editor: Harvey Brown
Samuelsen, Gonzalez, Valenzuela & Brown
3501 Jamboree Suite 602
Newport Beach, Ca 92660
(949) 689-5586

New Standard of Interpretation of Section 3208.3 (b) (1)

This is a significant decision involving a claim for psychiatric injury involving harassment.

The applicant filed a workers’compensation claim alleging harassment. The applicant alleged that the supervisor and other employees had harassed her and persecuted her. The supervisor and other employees recalled conditions much differently than the applicant perceived them.

The applicant was the one that was allegedly rude and inflexible with other employees. There was testimony from multiple employees as to the applicant’s behavior.

The case went to trial before a Workers’ Compensation Judge (WCJ). The WCJ found the applicant did not meet the burden under Labor Code section 3208.3 in that these events were not “actual events of employment” that were the “predominant cause” of her problems. She was not the subject of harassment or persecution but brought the disdain of fellow workers on herself. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) agreed on review.

The appellate court indicated that the applicant cannot recover under the facts of this case. They reviewed 3208.3 (b) (1) and (h) They indicated that “disdainful reactions” of a supervisor and co-workers do not constitute “actual events of employment” in this fact pattern. There must be an “event”, “something that takes place”. It also must arise “out of the working relationship”.

The Court reviewed the higher standard for compensability that was established by the legislature in adopting 3208 and will generally not allow the applicants perception standing alone.

Section 1542 Release Discharges Civil Action

The California Supreme Court has ruled in a landmark decision that a Workers’ Compensation Compromise and Release (C& R) will settle a civil claim when the language of the C&R intends to include civil claims.

The applicant filed a claim form for workers’ compensation benefits for sexual harassment. The applicant also filed a claim with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DEFH). The allegations were essentially the same as those in the workers’ compensation claim.

The applicant was given a right-to-sue letter by DFEH on October 10,1995.  The applicant settled her workers’ compensation claim on July 9,1996.  The settlement was on the mandatory form used for a compromise and release by the workers compensation appeals board (WCAB).

The preprinted compromise and release indicates that the applicant “releases and forever discharges (employer) from all claims and causes of action, whether now known or ascertained, or which may hereafter arise or develop as a result of the (claimed) injury.” In attachment to the compromise and release it indicated that the applicant agrees the compromise and release applied to all unknown and unanticipated injuries and damages, and all rights under Section 1542 of the Civil Code. The attachment then went on to quote Section 1542 of the Civil Code.

The WCAB approved the C&R. Li the case for the violation of FEHA the defendant filed for a motion for summary judgement citing the settlement in the workers’ compensation case. The trial court granted summary judgment. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgement. The California Supreme Court evaluated the settlement language of the compromise and release. They determined that the language was enforceable as written. They drew their conclusion on two points. The first was that the addendum made clear their intent to settle all matters, even if that included matters outside the workers compensation arena. The second point was that the applicant did not offer any evidence that she did not intend to exclude her FEHA claim in the compromise and release.

The court indicated that you may have a boilerplate attachment releasing all claims without it specifically referring to the cause of action that is being released. The intent was to release all civil claims. Here the FEHA case had not actually been filed yet and the court only determined on this factual basis and not if a civil case had already actually been filed.

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