Through a serious and willful misconduct claim, an injured worker may be entitled to recover penalty damages from their employer, valued up to 50% of the value of the underlying workers’ compensation claim. For employers, a finding of serious and willful misconduct carries harsh sanctions.
There is considerable confusion regarding how exactly serious and willful misconduct is defined under state law. Here, our Fresno workers’ compensation defense lawyers explain when inadequate workplace inspections could potentially constitute serious and willful misconduct under California state law.
Serious and Willful Misconduct: Know the Standard
Under California Labor Code Section 4553, serious and willful misconduct is more than ordinary negligence. It requires intentional wrongdoing on the part of an employer/supervisor or total disregard for employee safety. With this in mind, you may be wondering: Could an employer’s failure to conduct proper workplace inspection constitute serious and willful misconduct under California? The answer is technically ‘yes’—but only in quite limited circumstances. The employer or its managing agents must be fully aware of the actual, specific safety risks created by the lack of inspection.
California Case Law: Awareness of the Actual, Specific Risk is Required
To best understand how failure to inspect claims are handled under California’s serious and willful misconduct standard, it is useful to consider a real-world example. In the case of CLP Res., Inc. v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd., a worker filed an application for serious and willful misconduct benefits after being injured while on the job.
The man suffered major lacerations to his hand after being directed to use a table saw that was not properly secured. Initially, an administrative law judge held the employer liable for serious and willful misconduct on the grounds that “failed to inspect the worksite and detect the dangerous table saw.” The decision was challenged. On appeal, the WCAB was overturned. citing a wide body of California case law, the Court noted that an inadequate inspection only constitutes serious and willful misconduct if the employer or one of its managing agents is aware of the specific risk being created by the lack of inspection.
The Lesson: That an employer “should have known” or “was negligent” is not sufficient to prove serious and willful misconduct under California law. For employers preparing to defend this type of claim, this case emphasizes the importance of actual knowledge. An employer is generally not liable for serious and willful misconduct damage unless they knew that the lack of inspection would probably result in employee harm.
Speak to a Top-Rated Fresno Workers’ Compensation Defense Lawyer
At Yrulegui & Roberts, our California workers’ compensation defense attorneys have experience handling complex serious and willful misconduct claims. If you have questions or concerns about defending a claim or protecting your rights, we are here to help. Mr. Joe Igoa has handled serious and willful claims for over 40 years. Contact our team right away to learn more about what we can do to offer guidance and support. Our law firm is proud to serve locations throughout all of Central California.