In California, workers’ compensation is a sole legal option for injured employees. In effect, this means that someone hurt on the job generally cannot file a personal injury lawsuit directly against their employer. However, California Labor Code Section 4553 allows a worker to seek additional compensation if they were harmed because of “serious and willful misconduct” on the part of an employer.
Recently, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) issued an illustrative decision in the case of Maurilio Perez (deceased) v. Dynamic Auto Images, Inc.—denying compensation in a claim filed by the family of a manager allegedly killed in an accident caused by his own misconduct. Here, our California workers’ compensation defense lawyers provide an analysis of this recent case.
Case Review: Maurilio Perez (deceased) v. Dynamic Auto Images, Inc.
The serious and willful misconduct claim at issue in this case was filed by the family of Maurilio Perez, a man killed in a tragic workplace accident in Southern California. An employee of Dynamic Auto Images, Inc., Mr. Perez was killed after he fell more than 10 feet from a carport, landing on his head. Notably, Mr. Perez was a management level employee at the company.
Following the tragic accident, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) launched an investigation. The workplace safety regulator determined that significant violations contributed to the fatal fall accident. Dynamic Auto Images was fined $58,000.00 for the safety violation—though the fine was later reduced on appeal to just over $20,000.00.
The Legal Dispute
The family of Mr. Perez filed a serious and willful misconduct claim against the employer. There is no dispute that safety failures contributed to the fatal workplace fall accident. Instead, the issue at stake in this case was whether the employer could be held liable for serious and willful misconduct under California law.
To bring a successful serious and willful misconduct claim in California, a plaintiff generally needs to prove that the employer knew about the violation and/or intentionally disregarded worker safety to an extreme degree. In defending the claim, the employer emphasized that Mr. Perez, as a management level employee, was largely the party responsible for failing to put proper safety equipment in place.
Upon review, the Los Angeles Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) denied the serious and willful misconduct. Ruling in favor of the employer, the WCAB emphasized the importance of the “willfulness” element in these cases. The family was unable to meet its burden because it could not point to a willful failure by the business owner or other management employee other than the victim himself.
At Yrulegui & Roberts, our Fresno workers’ compensation defense attorneys have deep experience handling complex serious and willful misconduct claims. Mr. Joe Igoa has been handling S&W claims for over 40 years. If you or your company is facing a serious and willful misconduct claim from a current or former employee, we can help. Give us a call now or connect with us online to schedule an appointment with a top-rated attorney.