One of the recent most closely watched California workers’ comp cases has now been decided.
The case is County of San Diego v. WCAB (Christopher Pike), a 2018 case out of the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One (see link to the decision at the bottom of this post).
The case generated enough concern on both the applicant and defense side that amicus briefs were submitted by CAAA and by CWCI.
The issue was relatively simple. Mr. Pike, a deputy sheriff, had injured his shoulder in 2010 and about a year later entered into a stipulation for 11% permanent disability. But Pike filed a petition to reopen in May 2015, several months before the five year limit on reopening. The case raises the issue of whether Pike could be awarded temporary disability benefits or 4850 benefits (since he was a safety officer) after five years from the date of injury.
The workers’ compensation judge ruled that since Pike filed a timely petition to reopen, there was jurisdiction to award further TD after the five year span. A WCAB panel upheld the WCJ’s ruling on a 2-1 vote.
This is a case that could have had a huge impact if workers could preserve the possibility of further temporary disability indemnity benefits by filing a timely petition to reopen. Employers and insurers were very concerned about the possibility.
In a stinging decision, the Court of Appeal reversed the WCJ and WCAB, ruling that there was no wiggle room in the statute.
The court noted that “Section 4656, subdivision (c)(2) provides, “Aggregate disability payments for a single injury occurring on or after January 1, 2008, causing temporary disability shall not extend for more than 104 compensable weeks within a period of five years from the date of injury”.
The court relied on the plain language of the statute and noted no credible alternative reading was offered. Furthermore, the WCAB interpretation was said to be inconsistent with the legislative history,.
It seems very unlikely that the California Supreme Court will grant any request for review of this decision. If there is to be any eventual “fix”, it will have to come from legislative action.
Here is the court’s opinion: