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another reversal on 'going and coming'

Another Reversal on ‘Going and Coming’

California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal has reversed a Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) decision, which had in turn reversed a decision by a workers’ compensation judge (WCJ) on a “going and coming rule” case. In Shultz v WCAB (Joint Test Tactics and Training (JT3)), the court ultimately determined that the employee was operating his motor vehicle within the course and scope of employment. So, the going and coming rule, which defines the ordinary commute as not being part of the work day, was inapplicable.

Craig Schulz was a civilian employee working on a secure U.S. Air Force base not open to the public. On the day in question, he drove his personal vehicle to the base and passed through the secure gate using the security pass issued by his employer. Approximately one mile past the gate, he was involved in a motor vehicle accident (MVA) and sustained injuries. He claimed they were in the course and scope of employment. His employer denied the claim, saying he had not yet reached the employer’s premises. The employer also argued that the applicant had sustained injuries because of an idiopathic seizure related to his diabetes, so the injuries did not arise from his employment.

Extensive testimony was taken at trial as to the employee’s duties, his need to travel to various locations on the base during the course of the day and whether his employer expected him to use his personal vehicle. The employee testified that he commonly used his own vehicle to travel from location to location on the base. The employer presented testimony that it provided vehicles for employees to travel around the base and that it did not require the employee to use his own car. Multiple witnesses, however, confirmed that Schulz did, in fact, use is own vehicle on multiple occasions. Schulz provided compelling documentation from his own log (kept for tax purposes) of his vehicle usage. There was also general agreement that, while vehicles were typically available, on occasion they were not. Schulz’s side argued both that he had entered the employer’s “premises” when he went through the secured gate and that his vehicle was used in the course of his employment, based on custom and practice.

The WCJ ruled in Schulz’s favor, relying principally on the use of his personal vehicle on the job site. The judge did not address the premises issue raised by Schultz, nor was there any compelling evidence (at least according to the court) to support the claim of idiopathic causation. On appeal, the WCAB reversed, based on the employer’s evidence of availability of its vehicles and the policy that work could be postponed until a vehicle was available. The WCAB held that the injury was outside the course and scope of employment. The WCAB did not address the applicant’s argument that he was on the employer’s premises at the time of injury.

The appeals court did not focus on either the WCJ’s line of thought nor that of the WCAB but instead focused on the premises argument. The court noted:

“Although Schultz was assigned to a particular building on Edwards, it is undisputed that he and other employees of JT3 performed work at multiple locations at the base at various times. Edwards is a secure location, and JT3 controlled Schultz’s access to the base, which he could only enter with a security pass issued by JT3 and approved by the Air Force. Because JT3 controlled Schultz’s access to Edwards, and Schultz worked throughout the base on assignments, he was on the premises of his employer once Schultz entered Edwards, and his injury therefore occurred during the course of that employment for purposes of the workers’ compensation law. “

The court cited Smith v IAC, a California Supreme Court case, as support for the concept of an understanding of the expanded-workplace concept. The court found that the Schulz case was even “more compelling” than Smith on defining the premises of the employer as beyond the actual buildings where the work was performed. The court found that the discussion as to whether Schultz was required to provide his vehicle was irrelevant once it was determined he was on the premises:

“For purposes of the premises line rule, it does not matter whether Schultz was permitted to use his own car to perform work, as he contended, or if that was not permitted, as maintained by JT3, as the record clearly shows that Schultz was required to work throughout Edwards at times, and his work was not confined merely to Building No. 1440. Schultz was on JT3’s premises for purposes of employment when injured.”

The court summarized as follows:

“We hold that the premises line rule applies to an employee injured in a single-car traffic accident where (1) the employee was a civilian working on a secure U.S. Air Force base not generally open to the public, (2) the employee entered the base in his personal vehicle after passing a guard gate using a security pass issued by his employer with the approval of the Air Force, (3) the employee had traveled one mile inside the base when the accident occurred and (4) the undisputed evidence established although the employee worked out of a fixed location, the employer had multiple locations on the Air Force base and the employee traveled sometimes in his own vehicle, as needed, throughout the base to perform work assigned by his employer.”

Comments and Conclusions:

If we were ever under the illusion that the “going and coming” rule was an inflexible legal concept, this case should certainly dispel the notion.

It is interesting that neither the WCJ nor the WCAB seemed to focus on the ultimate legal issue relied upon by the appellate court, namely whether the employee had entered the employer’s premises once he had passed through the secured gate. Some understanding as to why that may have occurred can be found in some of the court’s discussion as to whether the applicant had raised this issue in proceedings below the appellate level. One of the arguments raised by the defense included the assertion that the applicant was raising the premises rule for the first time on appeal and therefore had forfeited the right to raise the argument. The appellate court rejected that argument, finding the applicant had included a discussion of the issue in the trial brief, thereby preserving it for consideration on appeal. However, it is certainly possible that, with all the testimony on whether and how often the applicant used his vehicle, the parties may have simply overlooked the premises issue. The court certainly found enough evidence in the testimony to make a finding on the issue, so the factual basis was available for everyone to see.

In the grand scheme of things, this case does not increase exposure very much. The number of cases where an employee enters a third party’s premises that will also be considered the employer’s premises and then continues to drive several miles will likely be very limited. The fact that the court relied upon the secured nature of the location also makes expansion of this concept somewhat questionable.

On Hand-Eating Clams And Independent Contractors

Is that guy you have doing that work you need done an independent contractor or an employee? Why does it matter? Well, aside from a whole host of other issues, liability for industrial injuries may hinge on whether that worker was an employee or an independent contractor.

Your humble author recently had occasion to visit his uncle Olaf. For those familiar with the exciting sport of competitive clam-breeding, you’ll no-doubt have heard of Olaf the Clamtastic, world-famous for his exceedingly rare clam-breeding abilities. He also has a business which sells the Giant Clams he raises, “Olaf’s World of Clams.” “Uncle Olaf,” I said, “who is that nice young man cleaning your prize-winning clams?” Uncle Olaf looked up from his magazine, Clams and Claims, and peered at his Olympic-sized swimming pool, the one where his giant clams ruled and all others feared to tread.

There, scrubbing the giant clams, was a young gentleman with a nervous look concealed by goggles and a breath mask.

“Oh,” said Uncle Olaf, “That’s Jim — he’s my independent contractor helping me keep the Clams clean.” As Uncle Olaf turned the page with one of his two hook-hands, I remarked “it’s a good thing he’s a contract worker and not an employee, those clams can be vicious!” But, the workers’ compensation defense attorney in me felt something was amiss. So, being the good nephew that I am, I asked Uncle Olaf, “how do you know he’s a contractor and not an employee?”

Uncle Olaf smiled, as if his silly nephew couldn’t be any sillier, and said “because I didn’t buy workers’ compensation insurance for him, of course!”

Poor Uncle Olaf …

The State of California does not require independent contractors to be covered by workers’ compensation insurance. In theory, one could have a thriving business using nothing but independent contractors and saving untold fortunes on workers’ compensation policy payments.

But, the law requires employers to either self-insure or obtain workers’ compensation insurance for their employees. And, much to Uncle Olaf’s surprise, the nature of a relationship, with respect to employer or contractor, is not determined by the possible employer’s purchase or failure to purchase workers’ compensation insurance. There is another test out there …

But, let’s start with the basics.

California Labor Code section 3353 defines an independent contractor as “any person who renders service for a specified recompense for a specified result, under the control of his principal as to the result of his work only and not as to the means by which such result is accomplished.” Section 3353 was enacted in 1930, codifying the common law distinction between employees and independent contractors. But, this distinction wasn’t concerned with workers’ compensation, but rather with tort law. Whereas an employee could make his employer liable for injuries caused to third parties (imagine an employee-bartender accidentally dropping a crate of fine whiskey on a poor bar patron — an unbearably cruel thought, I know, but one necessary to shock and make the point), the liability buck stopped with an independent contractor.

But, as California Labor Code section 3357 specifically excludes independent contractors from the presumption of employment (and therefore the presumed requirement for the employer to insure or self-insure against those workers’ industrial injuries), the issue is an important one — and case-law expanded the test. So, poor Uncle Olaf can’t put his checkbook away just because he never took it out to insure against a worker’s injuries. Uncle Olaf can’t even put his checkbook away just because he doesn’t micromanage the work or “control the means by which such result is accomplished.”

After all, Uncle Olaf thought that, so long as he doesn’t stand over the young gentleman’s shoulder … hovering … judging … making little comments and directing his every move (“you missed a spot, scrub that clam harder, put your hand inside the clam to get a better grip …”) the young gentleman could remain an independent contractor and Uncle Olaf could laugh at the competitor Clam stores paying insurance premiums every month.

So, dear readers, there I sat in my beloved Uncle Olaf’s kitchen as he ground his hooks into his wooden table, nervously watching the man he hired to clean his prize-winning clams for his Clam sale business, who he thought was his independent contractor but was actually allegedly (your humble author is a zealous defense attorney, after all) an employee, place his hands inside the snappiest of Uncle Olaf’s prize-winning clams. “Scrub from the outside!” he shouted, but the young gentleman cleaning the clams couldn’t hear him …

The California Supreme Court issued its opinion in the case of S.G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations (1989), outlining the proper analysis for determination of the question of employment or independent contractor status. S. G. Borello & Sons owned farmland near Gilroy (a place with a wonderful Garlic Festival). Although they kept regular employees for the various crops grown on these farms, for cucumbers, the nature of the market dictated another approach. Cucumber harvesting was contracted out to various migrant farm-worker families.

The families were provided with the opportunity to lay claim to a certain amount of plots of cucumbers, were provided with crates into which to harvest the cucumbers, but were otherwise left to their own devices. The cucumbers were sold to a pickle company in the area, and the profits were shared between the land-owners and the harvesters.

For the multi-week cucumber harvesting season, the harvesters were responsible for taking care of the cucumbers, picking only those ripe and ready for picking, and generally seeing about maximizing profits. The most aggressive task-masters in S.G. Borello & Sons employ found themselves absolutely powerless at the edge of the cucumber plots, for no employees dwelt there — only independent contractors.

That is, until, the Department of Industrial Relations issued a stop-work order. Finding that the independent-contractors were actually employees, and uninsured employees at that, the Department of Industrial Relations went on the war path against poor Mr. Borello and his sons (as well, effectively, against all other farmers in the Gilroy area that adopted the same practices).

Borello’s argument before the Supreme Court was simple — unlike other crops, cucumbers required a degree of knowledge and skill for harvesting, and the harvest workers were compensated for the final product and not the means of rendering service. But the Supreme Court found that other factors, primarily found in the Restatement Second of Agency, play into the analysis as well, among them:

  1. The right to discharge at will, without cause;
  2. Whether the worker is engaged in a distinct occupation or business;
  3. Whether the occupation, in that locality, is typically performed by a specialist without supervision;
  4. The skill required in the particular occupation;
  5. Whether the worker supplies the instrumentalities, tools, and the place for doing the work;
  6. The length of time for which services are performed;
  7. The method of payment (hourly or by task);
  8. Whether the work is part of the regular business of the principal; and
  9. The intent of the parties.

The Borello Court noted that “under the [Workers’ Compensation] Act, the “control-of-work-details” test for determining whether a person rendering service to another is an ’employee’ or an excluded ‘independent contractor’ must be applied with deference to the purposes of the protective legislation.”

The Court also noted that the workers made minimal investment in their work — no heavy equipment but just basic tools.

Other cases followed too.

In the case of Jose Luis Lara v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (2010), for example, the Court of Appeal examined whether a garden-variety handy-man could be an independent contractor. Lara sustained a pretty serious injury while doing work for a small shop called Metro Diner. Metro Diner didn’t have Lara covered by its workers’ compensation policy because he had no regular employment — he was called up to do odd work such as trimming bushes along Metro Diner’s roofline.

Lara provided his own equipment, paid his own taxes, and, although he was paid by the hour, was hired by the job rather than on a general basis. Nor did Metro Diner set Lara’s hours — he was just told to come early or late to avoid interfering with the operation of the Diner.

The workers’ compensation Judge found that Lara was an employee, and the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board reversed. In affirming the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board’s finding that Lara was a contract employee, the Court of Appeal cited Borello. Specifically, the Court noted that gardening was Lara’s line of work (and not the Diner’s), that Diner could not control the manner of Lara’s work, Lara had his own clients (other than Diner), and Lara had a substantial investment in his business (lots of tools, equipment, etc.).

As Uncle Olaf scratched his head (very carefully, mind you, as those razor sharp hooks hurt!), I could see that he wasn’t convinced. His prize-winning, hand-eating, giant-clam-raising mind was working. What else did Uncle Olaf think he had up his sleeve?

Uncle Olaf was beginning to get worried — what if his upstart nephew was right and, even though Uncle Olaf didn’t get insurance for the Clam Cleaner, an employment relationship was formed. After all, if Mr. Clam Cleaner was an employee, Uncle Olaf would be liable for any injuries sustained by Mr. Clam Cleaner, and, having lost both hands to giant Clam Bites before, was very much aware of the risks involved.

“I’m pretty sure he is an independent contractor,” said Olaf. Just then we heard a loud *SNAP* as a clam slapped shut, and the young gentleman in the Clam tank yanked his hand away just in time. Uncle Olaf breathed a sigh of relief and said “but he signed a contract … the contract says ‘I am not an employee; I am an independent contractor. I will clean Olaf’s clams. And if I should lose a hand or two, I will only sue the clam or clams that got me, and not poor Uncle Olaf.'”

I shook my head and told poor Uncle Olaf of the panel decision in the case of Leonard Key v. Los Angeles County Office Education. Leonard Key had signed a contract stating that he was an independent contractor paid to teach music lessons at one of the Los Angeles County schools. However, the Workers’ Compensation Judge found that Mr. Key was, in fact an employee, and his injury was compensable. Workers’ Compensation in California is compulsory, after all, and Mr. Key was simply an employee by any other name. And, after all, the farmers in the Borello case had signed a contract as well.

The most important thing for Uncle Olaf to remember is the guiding policy of workers’ compensation — to shift the costs of industrial injuries to the producers and not the consumers/public. Even the Legislature might make efforts to amend the law, defining a contractor vs. an employee based on a long list of factors.

So, dear readers, what should Uncle Olaf do? Before the young gentleman sticks his hand into another one of Uncle Olaf’s clams, should Olaf pull him out of the tank and cease operations until he can get a workers’ compensation policy?

A Tale Of Two Broken Hearts

Imagine, if you will, twin boys born on some sunny day not too long ago. Neither one of the boys, nor their parents, nor even the delivering doctors knew that both boys were born with a heart condition. This congenital heart anomaly, a patent foramen ovale, left a small hole open in the walls of each brother’s heart, exposing them to higher risks of stroke.

These twin brothers, let’s call them Keven and Kenny, seemed to be joined at the hip. They enjoyed all the same activities, all the same food, went to the same school, and, when they decided it was time to purchase homes of their own, bought two adjacent houses. Being as close as they were, they tore down the fence between their properties and right in the middle built a small gazebo where they could enjoy breakfast with their families every weekend morning.

In choosing a profession, Keven wanted a job that would keep him physically fit while allowing him to serve the community and even save the lives of his fellow citizens. So he became a firefighter. The job kept him physically fit and allowed him to maintain a clean bill of health … except for that congenital heart anomaly, which no one knew about.

Kenny, on the other hand, decided to pursue the absolute highest calling — the profession which the bravest and noblest aspire to. He didn’t want to become a physician, or an engineer, or even a scientist. He decided to become a workers’ compensation defense attorney (not unlike your humble author).

Still, the two twin brothers were in every other respect exactly alike, and spent every Sunday morning having breakfast together in that shared gazebo, along with their wives and children.

Then, tragedy struck! One morning, as Kenny and Keven sat next to each other, enjoying the morning air, each with a newspaper in the left hand and a piece of toast in the right, they suddenly sat straight up, looked into each other’s eyes, and both collapsed to the ground with strokes.

Their families rushed them to seek medical treatment and, fortunately, each of the two brothers recovered. Before long, they were sitting next to each other in their shared gazebo, when Kenny had an idea. Why not file workers’ compensation claims for the strokes — surely, the stress of being a firefighter caused Keven’s stroke. And, if being a firefighter is stressful enough to cause a stroke, then being a workers’ compensation defense attorney is even more so!

As the cases progressed, each of the two brothers agreed to use an Agreed Medical Evaluator, and each AME came to the same conclusion: the AMEs both found that, in their respective cases, the “stroke … occurred in an individual whose only major risk factor for stroke in terms of this industrial analysis appears to be his congenital heart defect … all of his conditions apportion 100% to non-industrial causation.”

Kenny was crushed — his case was effectively at an end as the workers’ compensation Judge ordered him to take nothing. After all, the Agreed Medical Evaluator had found that there was only one cause for his stroke — a non-industrial condition acquired at birth. How could any legal system, short of denying a defendant-employer due process, require workers’ compensation payment for something so patently and obviously unrelated to any work causes? Keven’s case, on the other hand, was just warming up.

Keven’s attorney argued that, under Labor Code section 3212, “any heart trouble that develops or manifests itself during a period while [the firefighter] is in the service of the office, staff, department, or unit … shall be presumed to arise out of and in the course of the employment.”

Now, isn’t that presumption rebutted? After all, as in both the case of Kenny and Keven, the Agreed Medical Evaluators have found that the sole reason for both strokes was the congenital heart condition — exactly 0% of the causation had anything to do with work as a firefighter or as a workers’ compensation defense attorney.

Well, as Kenny feels once again misused and ignored by the system he so gallantly serves, Keven has another line of defense: “The … heart trouble … so developing or manifesting itself … shall in no case be attributed to any disease existing prior to that development or manifestation.”

Keven’s attorney would have to prove that Keven is a firefighter — something he could establish without much difficulty (showing up at the Board with a fire axe is not recommended, even if you believe you’ve got “an axe to grind”). Then, he would have to prove that Keven’s injury could be considered “heart trouble.” This should be no problem, considering the fact that case-law has established that there are very few non-orthopedic injuries that might be considered not heart trouble (Muznik v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (1975)).

But what about that pesky requirement of “in the service of the office …” as required by Labor Code Section 3212? If the firefighter is sitting in his and his brother’s gazebo, drinking coffee on a beautiful Sunday morning and indulging in that antique of an information-delivery device that people so often read, is he really in the service of the fire department?

For example, the Court of Appeal in Geoghegan v. Retirement Board (1990) upheld a retirement board’s denial of benefits for a firefighter who sustained a heart attack while skiing.

Now, before the applicants’ attorneys out there start mumbling something about a ski-lodge burning and a San Francisco firefighter being called in to ski down the slopes and shovel ice onto the flames, your humble author assures you, this was a vacation. The treating physician found that the heart attack was caused by the altitude and Mr. Geoghegan had recently passed the fire department’s physical exams with skiing flying colors.

The Board of Retirement had rejected Geoghegan’s application for retirement benefits, and he appealed. There, the Court of Appeal rejected Geoghegan’s argument that Labor Code section 3212 applied and that he should be, at that very moment, counting his money instead of appealing his case, because the trial court had found that “the conclusion is inescapable that plaintiff’s disability was due to the myocardial infarction caused by the cold and altitude encountered while skiing.”

Previous decisions, as cited by the Geoghegan Court, included Turner v. Workmen’s Comp. App. Bd. (1968) and Bussa v. Workmen’s Comp. App. Bd. (1968). In Turner, a police officer’s heart attack sustained while on duty after a day off spent abalone fishing was found non-industrial, and the presumption of Labor Code Section 3212.5 was rebutted. In Bussa, a firefighter’s exertions on a second job were used to rebut the presumption of industrial causation for his heart attack.

Well, Keven’s attorney could easily fire back that those three cases can be distinguished because they don’t touch on the anti-attribution clause (“[t]he … heart trouble … so developing or manifesting itself … shall in no case be attributed to any disease existing prior to that development or manifestation.”) And, as the Agreed Medical Evaluator in Keven’s case had found that 100% of the disability was caused by a congenital heart defect, that leaves (let me get my calculator here …) 0% available for causes not “attributed to any disease existing prior to that development or manifestation.”

Geoghegan was already a firefighter when he sustained his heart attack; Turner was already a police officer when he sustained his heart attack; and Bussa was already a firefighter when he had his heart attack. On the other hand, each of these cases showed an injury attributed to something other than a condition in existence prior to the start of the applicant’s career with the fire or police department.

Keven, on the other hand, was not exerting himself at all — he was having coffee with his twin brother and their respective families over a relaxing Sunday breakfast.

But doesn’t something seem strange about sticking the fire department with the bill for a condition which existed at birth? After all, we’re talking about medical care and temporary disability and permanent disability and maybe even a pension. That’s not to mention the litigation costs. The city in which Keven is a firefighter could be deprived of a firetruck or several firefighters’ salaries if it is liable for Keven’s stroke.

Your humble author directs you to the recent case of Kevin Kennedy v. City of Oakland. Mr. Kennedy, a firefighter, had sustained a stroke while he was off work and filed a workers’ compensation claim against the City of Oakland, reasonably arguing that the stroke was “heart trouble” as contemplated by Labor Code section 3212. After an Agreed Medical Evaluator found that Mr. Kennedy’s stroke was entirely caused by a congenital heart anomaly, and had nothing to do at all with any work-related activities or trauma, the workers’ compensation judge found that the City of Oakland was not liable for the injury.

Mr. Kennedy’s attorney made a fairly logical argument: Labor Code Section 3212 prohibits the attribution of heart trouble to “any disease existing prior to that development or manifestation” of heart trouble. Additionally, the same Labor Code section requires heart trouble in firefighters to be presumed industrial, although this presumption may be rebutted by other evidence. Here, there is no evidence available with which to rebut this presumption, because the AME found that 100% of the causation should be attributed to the congenital heart condition.

The workers’ compensation Judge, however, found that Mr. Kennedy could not recover — based on the opinions of the AME, the stroke had absolutely nothing to do with Mr. Kennedy’s employment.

Applicant petitioned for reconsideration, and the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board granted reconsideration, reasoning that Mr. Kennedy’s patent foramen ovule was a condition existing prior to the development or manifestation of the stroke, and that Labor Code Section 3212 necessitated a finding of compensability. The Court of Appeal denied defendant’s petition for a writ of review.

In issuing its opinion, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board was consistent, echoing a similar decision in the matter of Karges v. Siskiyou County Sheriff, finding a deputy sheriff’s congenital heart condition compensable under Labor Code section 3212.5.

So … what’s to be done? Common sense and a basic inclination for fairness militate against this outcome. We’re not talking about a weak heart being aggravated by work conditions, but rather a firefighter at peak physical fitness succumbing to a condition with which he was born and an illness in which his work played no part. It’s entirely possible that if Mr. Kennedy had spent his life behind a desk, much like his imaginary twin brother Kenny, his heart would have been strained by office junk food and a sedentary lifestyle, much like your humble author’s.

As promised, here are a few crackpot arguments to be used only by the most desperate in such cases. Your humble author doesn’t know if these will work, but if they are the only alternative to writing a big check, perhaps they are worth exploring.

  1. As with the Karges decision, the argument should be raised that Labor Code Section 4663 is the more recent law, and therefore reflects the more current legislative intent. In litigated matters, judicial authority should be used to further this Legislative intent and not find impairment caused entirely by non-industrial factors to be compensable.
  2. In the writ denied case of Michael Yubeta v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, a corrections officer’s claim for heart disease was ruled non-compensable when the Agreed Medical Evaluator found cardiovascular disease manifested prior to the start of his tenure with the Department of Corrections. In the Kennedy, matter, the defense might argue that the patent foramen ovule is the “heart trouble” contemplated by section 3212, and it manifested itself at birth, before the term of service with the fire department. Mr. Kennedy’s stroke, being directly and exclusively caused by this manifestation, should not be presumed compensable.

    After all, the poor guy had a hole in his heart — not in the sense that he couldn’t love or open up to other people, but the wall to his heart had an actual hole. Studies had shown that this practically guaranteed that he would sustain a stroke at some point in his life. (Understandably, this one is a stretch).

  3. Webster’s dictionary defines “attribute” as “to regard as resulting from a specified cause.” However, as the Labor Code does not use the words “apportionment” and “attributed” interchangeably, we can only suppose that they mean two different things. So, while section 3212 prohibits us from attributing heart trouble for purposes of AOE/COE (Arising Out Of Employment/In The Course Of Employment), perhaps we are still permitted to “apportion” the heart trouble to non-industrial causes. If such is the case, the Kennedy matter should have found the stroke compensable, and yet apportioned 100% to non-industrial causes.

    In other words, Mr. Kennedy should get the medical treatment but not the permanent disability indemnity.

Where To Park The Liability – On Parking Lots And Workers' Comp

Employees sometimes drive to work,
And then they find a parking spot,
Sometimes on a busy street,
Sometimes in a parking lot,
But injuries can still occur,
Between their cars and the front door,
And who will pay for slips and falls,
Will always be the Judge’s call.

Such is the nursery rhyme sung to children of applicants’ attorneys and defense lawyers in the dark and murky world of California workers’ compensation.

This issue came up recently while I was having lunch with my brother-in-law, Jasper. Jasper had been doing well recently in the wheelbarrow industry, and wanted to expand his operations from his garage to a real factory. He invited me to lunch to present me with some exciting investment opportunities in the wheelbarrow industry. Currently, Jasper had his eye set on one location in particular because it came with a parking lot.

His plan was to set up a series of obstacles in the parking lot, in the hopes that the employee with poor agility and balance would sustain injury outside his factory and shield him from workers’ compensation liability. Thus, only the workers that could swim faster than sharks, swing over quicksand pits, and tightrope over mine fields would actually make it to work.

Without getting into issues of serious and willful misconduct, for those readers out there that aren’t Jasper, when you’re facing a claim of injury in or near a parking lot, are you on the hook? Let’s start with the basics.

In order for an injury to fall within the scope of California’s workers’ compensation system, as opposed to general civil tort, the injury must arise out of and occur within the course of employment (See Labor Code section 3600). This is commonly referred to as AOE/COE (Arising Out of Employment, in the Course of Employment). Generally speaking, injuries sustained during the regular commute to or from work are not compensable, unless they fit into one of several exceptions.

But what about that last stretch of travel, between the car door and the building door?

In the case of Lewis v. WCAB, Lewis parked in a lot leased for employees. Walking down the street to her office, three blocks away, she fell. In finding the claim compensable, the Supreme Court reasoned that there is a “reasonable margin of time and space necessary to be used in passing to and from the place where the work is to be done” included within the scope of employment.

The Court went further, noting that once the employee enters the premises under the control of the employer, including employer-owned parking lots, the commute has ended and the scope of employment has begun (See Santa Rosa Junior College v. WCAB, footnote 11).

By providing an employee parking lot, Jasper could very well find himself increasing his liability with every square foot of parking under his control.

At this, Jasper got nervous and decided his plan would have to be changed. Instead, he would have his employees park on the street and use the entire lot for more obstacles. After all, he read an article in Wheelbarrows and Workers’ Comp, a very limited-circulation magazine which only exists in this story, which discussed a similar idea. There, the article’s author discussed two cases.

The first, an unpublished decision by the Court of Appeal, was Sharp Coronado Hospital v. WCAB. There, the Court held that an employee asked by its employer to park on the street instead of the parking lot was precluded from recovering for an injury sustained while walking from the employee’s parked car to the hospital. The other, General Insurance Co. v. WCAB, held that an employee struck while crossing the street from his parked car to work could not recover because of the going and coming rule.

Furthermore, he had heard his friend, an applicants’ attorney, grumbling about the panel decision in the case of Sharon Ewegemi v. Oakland Unified School District. In that case, he understood, a teacher had parked her car on the street and was just a few feet from the door of her school when she turned back to get some papers from her car. Walking to her car, she tripped and fell in the street.

In denying her application, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board reasoned that, until she entered the school and began working, she was still engaged in her commute, even up to a few feet away from the school.

Jasper’s new plan could put all this into use, he thought, by having his employees cross the obstacle course before entering the front door.

Now, bear in mind, dear readers, this is my brother-in-law, so things had to be stated delicately, or else every Thanksgiving dinner would include Jasper mumbling about how he hopes I come see his snake-pit. So, I had to explain that his new idea wouldn’t exactly work, either.

So, as I side-stepped the issue of intentionally exposing workers to snake-pits, quicksand, and landmines, I gently pointed out that he might still be liable for injuries sustained in his parking lot because of the “special risk” doctrine, which makes injuries sustained during travel to work compensable if the employee is exposed to a risk of injury, for the benefit of the employer, to which the general public is not exposed.

For example, the applicant in the case of Sandra Parks v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, was attacked two car lengths down the street from the employer-provided parking lot, as she was boxed in by school children crossing the street and other cars behind her. In finding the injury compensable, the Court of Appeal reasoned that the car’s immobility caused by school children crossing the street was a special risk, and thus compensable.

Similar results were reached in R. G. Greydanus v. Industrial Accident Commission and John Freire v. Matson Navigation Company. In Greydanus, a dairy employee who had to turn left across a busy road to pull into the dairy farm was found to be exposed to a special risk because of the dangerous turn.

Likewise, in Freire, a janitor who worked aboard a steamship could only reach the ship by walking across a public bulkhead. The walk across the bulkhead was found to be a special risk, and the injury, though sustained some distance away from the ship itself, was found compensable.

Jasper looked deeply saddened as his eyes became watery and he glanced down at his blueprint. Where, before, the set of American Gladiator was reborn in his parking lot, now remained only painted lines between which employees could park their cars before proceeding to work.

Frustrated, Jasper shoved his blueprint aside and decided he wouldn’t have a parking lot at all. As he angrily stared out the window, no doubt jealously glaring at the restaurant’s parking lot, your humble author felt compelled to give some good news.

“Cheer up,” I told my brother-in-law, Jasper. “Not all injuries sustained in parking lots are compensable.” At that, Jasper seemed to rekindle the possibility of a parking lot obstacle course and he began to listen closely.

For example, in the case of Jessica Rodgers v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, an employee took a break from work to go to the bank. She then returned to the work parking lot and arranged her money before stepping out of her car and returning to work. In between her car and the building, however, a “biker,” who had followed her from the bank, attacked her and stole her money.

Even though the injury was sustained during work hours, between starting and finishing the day’s shift, and in the employer parking lot, the Court of Appeal held that the injury was not compensable because the cause of the injury was formed independent of any work-related activity — the biker just wanted to rob her, regardless of where she worked or who she was.

Likewise, in the panel decision of Basil Perkins v. City of Los Angeles, the applicant, a city animal control officer, was shot while napping in his work vehicle, while parked in the employer-owned lot, and wearing his uniform. As his home was over 130 miles away, he made a regular practice of napping in his car after a shift had ended.

Initially, the workers’ compensation judge found the injury compensable, but the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board reversed, finding the injury was not compensable, as the shift had ended, and the employee was only in the parking lot for his convenience. In other words, the scope of employment cannot be artificially extended by dallying on the employer’s premises.

The same occurred when a worker arrived to work too early, as in the writ denied case of Paul Grove (Dec’d), Sharon Grove (Widow) v. Miller Coors, LLC. In that case, the employee had arrived to work early and had used the restroom at work less than two hours before the start of his shift, when he sustained an injury in the restroom. There, the workers’ compensation Judge found the injury to be non-compensable.

Fortunately, Jasper never got to try out his obstacle course idea — the wheelbarrow industry took a downturn, and he decided expanding beyond his garage was not a good idea at this time. Regardless, here are some takeaway rules:

  1. Arriving at an employer-owned or provided parking lot begins the scope of the employment relationship and ends the commute, so long as the arrival is within the regular time for employment.
  2. If travel to the employer or the employer’s parking lot presents a “special risk” to the employees, then the time during which the employee is exposed to the risk will not be barred by the Going and Coming Rule.
  3. Injuries sustained in an employer-provided parking lot are subject to AOE/COE analysis, so injuries sustained for reasons unrelated to work, such as robberies, will not be compensable, unless the special risk doctrine applies.
  4. Whatever the liability for workers’ compensation, the “Going and Coming” rule is not subject to the premises rule for civil liability and respondeat superior, as found by the Court of Appeal in Dean Hartline v. Kaiser Foundation Hospitals.
  5. Do not invest in the wheelbarrow market if the president of your company is busy planning an obstacle course for his employees trying to get to work.

SB 863 Valdez Revisited

As you may already know, the Second District Court of Appeal recently issued their decision on this case which involves in part, the admissibility of non-Medical Provider Network doctor’s reports. This was initially an unpublished decision. However, plaintiff’s counsel petitioned the court which did in fact publish the opinion giving it precedential status. In other words, it could be cited in other cases with the same or similar issues.

In its simplest terms, it says in part that an injured employee may be treated by his/her own non-Medical Provider Network physician pursuant to Labor Code (L/C) 4605 for diagnosis, treatment and attendant reports. The case goes on to acknowledge that the employee is responsible for the payment of these services and that any reports generated by the non-Medical Provider Network doctor are admissible. However, the case was remanded to the trial court to deal with the admissibility as well as other issues left unsettled by the Workers’ Compensation Judge at the time of trial.

However, as you will see below, I am pleased to report that the defense strategy we developed allowing employers to use the current Medical Provider Network system to its fullest advantage was adopted by the Legislature in the recently passed SB 863. This was due to the amendment to Labor Code 4605 as discussed below.

Background
The current Labor Code 4605 was first enacted in 1917 as a part of the then Insurance and Safety Act. Sec. 9(a) of that act is most interesting from a historical perspective in that it reads:

Such medical, surgical and hospital treatment, including nursing, medicines, medical and surgical supplies, crutches and apparatus, including artificial members, as may reasonably be required to cure and relieve from the effects of the injury, the same to be provided by the employer, and in case of his neglect or refusal seasonably to do so, the employer to be liable for the reasonable expense incurred by or on behalf of the employee in providing the same: provided, that if the employee so requests, the employer shall tender him one change of physicians and shall nominate at least three additional practicing physicians competent to treat the particular case, or as many as may be available if three cannot reasonably be named, from whom the employee may choose: the employee shall also be entitled, in any serious case, upon request, to the services of a consulting physician to be provided by the employer: all of said treatment to be at the expense of the employer. If the employee so requests, the employer must procure certification by the commission or the commissioner of the competency for the particular case of the consulting or additional physicians; provided, further, that the foregoing provisions regarding a change of physicians shall not apply to those cases where the employer maintains, for his own employees, a hospital and hospital staff, the adequacy and competency of which have been approved by the commission. Nothing contained in this section shall be construed to limit the right of the employee to provide, in any case, at his own expense, a consulting physician or any attending physicians whom he may desire (my emphasis). The same general language as to responsibilities is now found in L/C 4600(a); 4601 and 4605.

The reason this section is important is that Section 9(a) pre-dates Labor Code 4616, the Medical Provider Network statute. As such, any attempt prior to SB 863 to harmonize the rights of the employee to seek their own doctor at their own expense against the later-enacted Medical Provider Network statute would have to give precedent to the later-enacted labor code section (L/C 4616).

Labor Code 4605 Amended By SB 863
However, all of that was changed with SB 863 which amends Labor Code 4605 in such a way that makes clear the admissibility and subsequent value of any non-Medical Provider Network generated reports:

“Section 4605 of the Labor Code is amended to read:

4605. Nothing contained in this chapter shall limit the right of the employee to provide, at his or her own expense, a consulting physician or attending physicians whom he or she desires. Any report prepared by consulting or attending physicians pursuant to this section shall not be the sole basis of an award of compensation. A qualified medical evaluator (QME) or authorized treating physician shall address any report procured pursuant to this section and shall indicate whether he or she agrees or disagrees with the findings or opinions stated in the report, and shall identify the bases for this opinion.”

Strategy For The Use Of Labor Code 4605 And Medical Provider Networks Going Forward
Employers and their claims administrators (carrier or Third Party Administrator) must aggressively assert and maintain their medical control over any new claim reported under their Medical Provider Network to make this strategy work.

First, employers need to be sure that the required Medical Provider Network notice to each employee and the Labor Code required general postings are complete and well documented.

It is important to note that SB 863 also made significant changes to 4616, the Medical Provider Network statute. However, even with these changes, an employer’s best defense will continue to be quality documentation regarding policies and procedures on their handling of the Medical Provider Network notification and enforcement process which will block applicant attorneys’ (A/A) attempt to seize medical control for failure to comply with the statute.

Consulting And Attending Physicians
The important question raised by Valdez dealing with the use of Labor Code 4605 by applicant attorneys as a means to get their non-Medical Provider Network doctors reports admitted has been resolved. Labor Code 4605, as amended, has clarified clearly and concisely to who and how the non-Medical Provider Network doctor(s) reports are to be submitted and used.

As noted above, “A qualified medical evaluator or authorized treating physician shall address any report procured pursuant to this section and shall indicate whether he or she (my emphasis) agrees or disagrees with the findings or opinions…” You will note that only a qualified medical evaluator in a non-Medical Provider Network claims environment or the “authorized treating physician” which in the case of a Medical Provider Network is the Primary Treating Physician (PTP) have control over the use of such pro-offered reports.

Recommended Procedure Under Labor Code 4605 As Amended

  1. As a first step, I recommend that the injured employee be informed, as part of the employer’s or claims professional’s acknowledgment of the claim, that a valid Medical Provider Network is in place and that the employee’s cooperation is expected.
  2. The same initial notice should also state “that the employee is free under Labor Code 4605 to seek their own consulting or attending physician, at their own expense.” They will be told at that time that if they do avail themselves of this option under Labor Code 4605, their consulting or attending physician’s medical reports will be tendered to the Primary Treating Physician (PTP) for this injury who, under the Medical Provider Network statute, is the controlling doctor (Labor Code 4061.5). Under this scenario, the consulting or attending physician’s report will be submitted to either the qualified medical evaluator or Primary Treating Physician to be used as he/she deems appropriate.
  3. At the same time, the normal Medical Provider Network process will be enforced as is current policy. Demand will be made that the employee continues to be seen for diagnosis and treatment by a Medical Provider Network doctor. If there is a dispute as to diagnosis or treatment by either the applicant’s attorney or the L/C 4605-obtained consulting report, that dispute will be handled under the Medical Provider Network’s 2nd, 3rd and if necessary, the Independent Medical Review process and NOT through a Panel Qualified Medical Evaluator.
  4. We will also be requesting from the employee an acknowledgement, under penalty of perjury that the employee has already paid or understands that he/she is the ultimate responsible party for paying their L/C 4605-obtained physicians as well as any other related bills for treatment, testing and other costs.
  5. We will object to any liens from the consulting physician and will recommend they bill the injured employee directly.
  6. Should the employee continue to refuse to be seen by our Medical Provider Network doctors and treat with the non-Medical Provider Network physician, then a Notice of Suspension of Benefits will be sent to the injured employee, his attorney (if there is one), and the non-treating physician. The notice will inform all of the above that all benefits including both Temporary Total Disability and medical treatment are suspended under Labor Code 4053 for failure to comply with a written demand. It will go on to say that the suspension can be lifted by the injured employee simply showing up at our Medical Provider Network doctor for diagnosis and if necessary, treatment.
  7. Under this scenario, employers and their carriers or Third Party Administrators will be able to use the full weight of the Medical Provider Network process while, at the same time, dealing with non-Medical Provider Network procured medical diagnosis and treatment. This will help keep the employee within the Medical Provider Network and, if handled in a swift and judicious manner, help hasten a timely closure of the claim.