Labor & Employment Law Daily Workers’ comp is exclusive remedy for couple injured while assisting officer’s request to check on neighbor
Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Workers’ comp is exclusive remedy for couple injured while assisting officer’s request to check on neighbor

By Kathleen Kapusta, J.D.

Simply alleging the officer’s request for assistance contained a misrepresentation, without more, did not preclude application of Labor Code Sec. 3366 and the exclusivity provision, said the court majority.

A husband and wife who walked into an active murder scene and suffered a violent attack when they responded to a county sheriff corporal’s call asking them to assist law enforcement by checking on a neighbor who had called 911 were engaged in “active law enforcement service” under California law, a divided state high court ruled, and thus workers’ compensation was the exclusive remedy for their injuries. Although the couple alleged that the corporal misrepresented the potential danger, the court noted that they responded to a 911 call for assistance of an unknown nature and were properly deemed employees under Lab. Code § 3366. Further, said the court, “even when an employer intentionally conceals and misrepresents hazards in order to induce an individual to accept employment, workers’ compensation is the individual’s exclusive remedy.” Justice Groban filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Chin concurred (Gund v. County of Trinity, August 27, 2020, Cuellar, M.).

The court also noted that while a plaintiff may pursue tort claims for intentional misconduct that has only a questionable relationship to the employment, an injury that did not occur while the employee was performing a service incidental to and a risk of the employment, or where the employer stepped out of its proper role, those were not the types of injuries the couple asserted. Rather, their allegation the corporal’s misrepresentations caused their injuries “turns on his state of mind and does not present a case in which he engaged in some conduct beyond the employment-like relationship created by section 3366.”

Dissent. Justice Groban, dissenting, disagreed with the majority’s conclusion that the “specific details” of the exchange between the corporal and the couple did not change the essential nature of his request. “In my view, the details change everything.” Accordingly, the Justice would hold that the couple was not subject to section 3366 and would reverse the judgment of the court of appeal.

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