California Labor Code §3208.3 Claims: How is “Sudden and Extraordinary” Defined?

In California, employers are required to carry no-fault workers’ compensation insurance coverage for their employees. If a person is hurt on the job, they can file for benefits. However, California Labor Code § 3208.3(d) states that employers cannot be held liable through a workers’ compensation claim for a “psychiatric injury” of an employee who has not been on the job for at least six months. With that being said, situations where a psychiatric injury was caused by a “sudden and extraordinary” event are an exception. Here, our Sacramento workers’ compensation defense law firm explains how “sudden and extraordinary” is defined under California law.

Know the Basics: Psychiatric are Compensable After Six Months of Employment

In California, workers’ compensation laws provide that psychiatric injuries are compensable, but with a notable caveat: the employee must have been employed for at least six months. If a worker develops a psychiatric injury after one day on the job, that injury is presumptive (but not automatically) non-compensable. The six-month requirement is based on the principle that sufficient employment duration allows for a fair assessment of work-related psychiatric stressors.

Note: California’s workers’ compensation laws require six months of total employment. The six-month period need not be continuous.

An Exception to the Six-Month Requirement for Sudden and Extraordinary Incident

There is a critical exception to the six-month rule for psychiatric workers’ compensation claims in California: Trauma caused by a “sudden and extraordinary” event is compensable regardless of an employee’s tenure. In other words, a worker may apply to get workers’ compensation benefits for a psychiatric injury right away as long as they can assert that they endured some form of sudden and extraordinary event in the workplace.

How California Defines “Sudden and Extraordinary” in Workers’ Compensation Cases

The definition of “sudden and extraordinary” events in California workers’ compensation cases can be central to these cases. However, the legal definition is somewhat vague, and courts will always closely examine the specific facts of the case. From a legal perspective, these terms have been interpreted to mean that a psychiatric injury within the first six months must be:

  • Unforeseeable (sudden); and
  • Unusual and inherently traumatic (extraordinary).

The California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) generally looks for incidents that deviate significantly from the routine work activities an employee might be expected to perform. For instance, a retail worker experiencing a violent armed robbery could be considered exposed to a “sudden and extraordinary” event, given that facing such extreme danger is not typical of their normal duties. On the other hand, a police officer being called to stop an ongoing robbery would not be considered sudden and extraordinary unless something unusual and traumatic occurred.

Set Up a Confidential Consultation with Our Sacramento Workers’ Compensation Defense Lawyer

At Yrulegui & Roberts, our Sacramento workers’ compensation defense lawyers possess the expertise to defend sudden and extraordinary psychiatric injury claims. Call us now or contact us online to set up your completely confidential case review. We defend workers’ compensation cases in Sacramento and all across Central California.