Three Defense Strategies in Serious and Willful Misconduct Cases in California

While a workers’ compensation claim is generally the exclusive legal remedy that an injured employee has against his or her own company, there is a notable exception to the rule: A serious and willful misconduct claim. An employer could face a big financial hit if a workplace injury happens because of serious and willful misconduct. At Yrulegui & Roberts, we help businesses proactively defend these claims. Here, our Fresno workers’ compensation defense attorney highlights three defense strategies that employers can raise in a serious and willful misconduct case.

Know the Basics: Serious and Willful Misconduct in California

Under California Labor Code § 4553, a business or organization faces a greater level of liability when a worker’s injury results from a deliberate act or omission made in conscious disregard for the safety of others. It is important to emphasize that “serious and willful misconduct” is not a synonym for negligence. An employer is only liable for this type of breach if they breached a workplace safety standard:

  • Intentionally; or
  • With gross negligence.

Three Defense Strategies in a Serious and Willful Misconduct Case in California

1. Challenge the Willfulness of the Alleged Misconduct

For an employer in California facing a serious and willful misconduct claim from an injured worker, the primary defense typically centers around disputing the willfulness of the alleged misconduct. Remember, mere negligence is not serious and willful misconduct. Employers can argue that the actions in question were not done with a deliberate intention to harm or with the knowledge that harm was a probable result. Demonstrating that the incident was a result of a reasonable error in judgment, a misunderstanding, or some other type of ordinary or unforeseeable event.

2. Demonstrate Compliance with Relevant Federal and State Safety Regulations

An employer can demonstrate adherence to all relevant safety regulations and protocols. By providing thorough documentation of safety training, equipment maintenance records, and adherence to industry standards, an employer can illustrate a commitment to providing a safe work environment. Many serious and willful misconduct claims are filed based on (alleged) violations of workplace safety regulations.

3. Assert Contributory Negligence By Claimant

In some circumstances, the employer may present evidence that the employee’s own negligence or failure to follow established safety procedures contributed to their injury. Although contributory negligence is not a complete defense to a serious and willful misconduct claim, it can mitigate the perceived degree of the employer’s fault. Indeed, in some cases, the contributorily negligent conduct of the injured worker may be sufficient to effectively defend the case. Instead of a serious and willful misconduct claim, the worker may instead only have a standard workers’ compensation claim.

Get Help From Our Fresno Serious and Willful Misconduct Defense Attorney

At Yrulegui & Roberts, our California workers’ compensation defense lawyer has extensive experience handling serious and willful misconduct claims. Contact us right away to arrange your completely confidential initial consultation. With an office in Fresno, we defend serious and willful misconduct cases at WCAB locations throughout the region, including in Bakersfield, Stockton, and Sacramento.