Under California law, an employee may bring a workers’ compensation claim for a mental or emotional injury. Under California Labor Code Section 3208.3, a “psychiatric injury shall be compensable if it is a mental disorder which causes disability or need for medical treatment” and certain other criteria are satisfied.

Under the statute, employees are generally prohibited from recovering benefits for psychiatric injuries unless they file their claim (or provide some form of notice to an employer) before their termination. However, there is an exception under Labor Code Section 3208.3(e)(1) if the mental/emotional injury was caused by “sudden and extraordinary events of employment.

Labor Code Section 3208.3(e)(1): Three Things to Know About the ‘Sudden and Extraordinary’ Standard

  1. Sudden and Extraordinary’ Allows for Exceptions in Psychiatric Injury Claims

For a psychiatric claim to be compensable under California’s Labor Code Section 3208.3, an employee must have strong medical evidence. Additionally, they must satisfy certain technical standards. As a general rule, an employee can only recover workers’ compensation for a psychiatric injury if:

  • They have worked for the employer for at least six months; and
  • They filed or their employer has some form of notice before termination.

Labor Codes Section 3208.3(e)(1 ) states clearly that there is an exception if the mental/emotional injury was caused by a ‘sudden and extraordinary’ event in the course of employment. In other words, an employee who suffers psychiatric harm as a result of a sudden and extraordinary event may be eligible for benefits even if they have worked less than six months and/or they have already been terminated.

  • The Standard is Somewhat Vague: Some Examples

One of the challenges of ‘sudden and extraordinary’ workers’ compensation cases is that the language is somewhat vague. Here are three real-world case examples where California courts ruled that an injury was considered to be sudden and extraordinary for the purposes of state law:

  • A carpenter suffered a severe eye injury while removing a nail from a board;
  • A worker was severely injured after falling from improperly assembled scaffolding; and
  • A worker was injured after a cable snapped, causing a wrecking ball to fly in his direction. 

To summarize, the key is that these injuries generally occur in a discrete incident (single accident) and they are unusual given the specific circumstances of the workplace. 

  • These Claims are Especially Complicated

Psychiatric injury workers’ compensation claims tend to be complicated—especially so if the worker is relying on the sudden and extraordinary exception to file their claim. An employer, administrator, or insurer facing this type of workers’ compensation claim should be prepared to seek legal guidance from an experienced attorney.

Call Our Fresno, CA Workers’ Compensation Defense Attorneys Today

At Yrulegui & Roberts, our California workers’ compensation defense lawyers are skilled, knowledgeable, and effective advocates for clients. If you have questions about Labor Code Section 3208.3, we are here to get you answers. Contact us now for your confidential, no commitment case evaluation. We provide workers’ compensation defense services throughout Central California, including Fresno County, Mariposa County, Merced County, Tulare County, Kings County, San Joaquin County, and Stanislaus County.