Under California law, a workers’ compensation claim is generally the sole legal remedy that an injured worker has against their own employer. However, there is a key exception for cases in which an employee was harmed because of “serious and willful” misconduct by the employer. Through this type of claim, injured workers may be entitled to a 50% increase in their benefits.
Serious and willful misconduct claims are complicated. They can be challenging to win—but certainly not impossible. In the recent case of Carlos Flores, Applicant v. County of Los Angeles, an injured worker was awarded compensation for serious and willful misconduct. Here, our Fresno workers’ compensation lawyer provides an analysis of the serious and willful misconduct claim.
The applicant (Carlos Flores) was employed by the sheriff’s department of Los Angeles County. As part of his job duties, he was instructed to patrol a park on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV). The record states that Mr. Flores had never ridden an ATV before, had not been trained on ATV operation/safety, was not provided with protective equipment, and he had expressed to his employer that he was not comfortable with the job assignment given the lack of training and lack of safety equipment.
Nonetheless, Mr. Flores was instructed by his supervisor to patrol the park on the ATV. He was injured in a crash while on patrol. Mr. Flores filed for workers’ compensation benefits. In addition, he filed a serious and willful misconduct claim against his employer. The employer (County of Los Angeles) countered that it was not aware that Mr. Flores lacked adequate training and it was not aware that he had not been issued a helmet.
The core legal issue at stake in this case is whether or not the employer’s conduct constitutes “serious and willful” misconduct for the purposes of California’s workers’ compensation law. In defending the claim, the employer emphasized that it did not engage in serious and willful misconduct because it was not fully aware of the actions of its supervisors and that it would not have allowed Mr. Flores on the ATV had known the circumstances.
On review, the WCAB ruled in favor of the employee. It determined that the Deputy Sheriff who ordered Mr. Flores to operate the ATV without training and without a helmet engaged in serious and willful misconduct. Even though that supervisory employee was not at a particularly high level without the employer’s management structure, the WCAB rules that the employer could still be held liable for serious and willful misconduct under California Labor Code § 4553.
Joseph C. Yrulegui is a Fresno workers’ compensation lawyer with the knowledge and expertise to represent workers in all types of serious and willful misconduct claims. If your injuries happened because your employer was grossly negligent, we can help. Contact us today to set up a strictly private review of your case. We handle serious and willful misconduct cases in Fresno, Fresno County, and throughout the San Joaquin Valley region.