No High-Fives for Her Pancaked Hand: Court of Appeals Holds that Safety Blocks on Power Press Do Not Qualify for Exception to Worker’s Compensation Exclusivity Rule
Factory worker, Lucia Gonzalez (“Gonzalez”), had her hand crushed like a pancake in an automated power press in the factory she worked in. Sadly for Gonzalez, she won’t be giving out any high-fives with that crushed hand. Not only is she unable to do so because of the injury, she doesn’t want to because the Court of Appeals issued an opinion today holding that her case did not qualify for an exception to the worker’s compensation exclusivity rule.
The worker’s compensation exclusivity rule more or less holds that when an employee is injured on the job, he or she can’t sue her employer for his or her injury. Instead, the injured worker must seek recovery for his or her injuries through worker’s compensation. Through worker’s compensation, the employer assumes responsibility for on the job injuries or death without accounting for fault. In exchange, the employer receives limitations on the amount of money or damages a worker can recover.
Worker’s compensation has its benefits and disadvantages. It allows for a speedy and certain recovery of benefits to the injured worker without having to prove fault through a long lawsuit. On the other hand, the worker’s damages are limited and he or she will generally never recover as much through worker’s compensation as he or she would in a regular negligence lawsuit. However, there may be other ways for an injured worker to recover from other parties other than the employer. For example, a worker that is injured by a machine in a manufacturing plant may not sue his or her employer, but may sue the manufacturer of the machine or the company that performed maintenance on the machine. In addition, in certain unique scenarios an exception to the worker’s compensation exclusivity rule may apply and allow for an injured employee to sue his or her employer.
One of those exceptions is what is known as the “power press exception.” Under California Labor Code 4558, an injured employee may sue 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, and where the manufacturer had designed, installed, required or otherwise provided instructions for the attachment of the guards to the employer. In Lucia Gonzalez’s case, she argued that the exclusion applied because the manufacturer had supposedly provided her employer with instructions regarding the use of safety blocks while manually loading the power press.
The California Court of Appeals held that the safety blocks did not qualify as a point of operation guard because the blocks must be moved in and out of the point of operation by the worker. The Court of Appeals concluded that a point of operation guard must be the type of device or guard that is installed by the manufacturer or the employer and subject to “removal” by the employer as set forth in the statute. In other words, the Court of Appeals decided that a point of operation guard was required to be affixed to the machine and permanently installed. Although the safety blocks were a low level form of safety guard at the point of operation, they were not permanently installed on the machine and were constantly removed during the course of operation. As such, the Court of Appeals decided that the power press exception did not apply and ruled against Gonzalez.
If you were injured on the job, you should consult with an attorney to determine if there are other parties that you may recover against other than your employer. The attorneys at the Piccuta Law Group, LLP have handled several cases wherein an employee is able to recover against third parties for on the job injuries. Contact one of our attorneys today for a free consultation.