Tuesday, August 21, 2012
No Loss-of-Consortium Claim Under Power-Press Exception—S.C.
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The spouse of a worker who sues an employer because the worker was injured by a power press that lacked a proper guard cannot sue for loss of consortium, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled yesterday.
Justice Marvin Baxter said the claim of Nidia Watrous for loss of consortium arising from her husband’s injury while working for LeFiell Manufacturing Co. is barred because the power-press exception to workers’ compensation exclusivity applies only to the injured employee.
O’Neil Watrous sued LeFiell for injuries sustained while working on a “FENN 5f” swaging machine. He pled the claim under Labor Code Sec. 4558, which authorizes an injured worker to bring a civil action for tort damages against his or her employer where the injuries were “proximately caused by the employer’s knowing removal of, or knowing failure to install, a point of operation guard on a power press,” where the “manufacturer [had] designed, installed, required or otherwise provided by specification for the attachment of the guards and conveyed knowledge of the same to the employer.”
The Court of Appeal for this district denied a petition for writ of mandate and ruled that Nidia Watrous could sue. The panel reasoned that because Sec. 4558 authorized the injured worker to sue his employer in a court of law for his power press injuries, the claims of both the worker and his dependent spouse fell outside the workers’ compensation system altogether, and accordingly, the exclusivity rule did not apply.
Baxter, however, said the employer’s demurrer to the wife’s claim should have been sustained.
“What the Court of Appeal appears to have overlooked,” the justice wrote, “is that, notwithstanding the availability of a civil action at law for his power press injuries, employee’s claims arising from his industrial accident remain compensable under the workers’ compensation system.”
Sec. 4558, he explained, augments, rather than supplants, the workers’ compensation remedy in cases to which the statute applies, with the employer entitled to a credit or setoff against the tort settlement or judgment for the amount of workers’ compensation benefits.
“[T]he Legislature has expressly restricted standing to bring the action at law authorized under subdivision (b) of section 4558 to the injured worker alone,” Baxter wrote. “The availability of a civil remedy for the injured worker, to augment his or her workers’ compensation benefits should he or she prevail in court, does not take the case outside of the workers’ compensation system. Consequently, derivative claims of dependent family members, such as spouse’s claim for loss of consortium here, remain barred under the workers’ compensation law’s exclusivity rule.”
The case, LeFiell Manufacturing Co. v. Superior Court (Watrous), 12 S.O.S. 4209, was argued before the high court by Jeffrey L. Malek of Malek & Malek in Torrance for the plaintiff and Christina D. Bennett of Purcell Law in Santa Ana for the defendant.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company