The Initial Physical Aggressor Defense in California Workers’ Compensation

In California workers’ compensation cases, there is a principle known as the “initial physical aggressor” defense that can prevent an employee from receiving benefits for injuries sustained due to physical altercations. This defense applies when the injured employee was the initial physical aggressor in starting an incident through assaultive or provocative words or conduct.

The rationale behind this defense is that the California workers’ compensation system is intended to compensate for injuries arising out of and in the course of employment. However, if an employee initiates a physical altercation for personal reasons unrelated to their job duties, any resulting injuries would not be considered work-related, and thus, would not be covered.

For the initial physical aggressor defense to apply, the employer must demonstrate that the injured employee was truly the initial instigator of physical force or violence in the encounter. Merely arguing, using offensive language, or making threatening gestures is generally not enough to be considered an “initial physical aggressor.” There must be proof that the employee took the first assaultive physical action.

If successfully invoked, the initial physical aggressor defense can result in the complete denial of a workers’ compensation claim for injuries stemming from the altercation. The injured employee would not receive any benefits such as coverage for medical treatment, disability payments, or other compensation.

However, the defense has limitations. If the employer or a co-worker responds with excessive force beyond what was reasonably necessary for self-defense, the injured employee may still recover partial benefits. Additionally, an employee who was initially the physical aggressor but then tried to stop or withdraw from the encounter may potentially receive benefits for injuries sustained after their withdrawal attempt.

The initial physical aggressor defense requires a very fact-specific analysis of the circumstances surrounding the altercation. Ultimately, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board judge evaluates the totality of the evidence to determine if the defense precludes the payment of benefits.

At Yrulegui & Roberts, our Pasadena workers’ compensation defense lawyers have the skills and expertise to defend all types of cases. If you have any questions about preparing a defense, please do not hesitate to contact us today for a confidential initial case review.