Workers’ Comp Watch: California Court Rejects Employer’s ‘Exclusive Remedy’ Defense

On December 21st, 2021, the Second District Court of Appeal for the State of California rejected an employer’s “exclusive remedy” defense in COVID-19 exposure claim. In the case of See’s Candies, Inc. v. Superior Ct. of Cal., the appeals court determined that the “exclusivity” defense does not apply given the facts of the case. In this article, our Fresno workers’ compensation attorney provides a more in depth overview and explanation of the decision from the California court. 

Background: Worker’s Husband Died From COVID-19 Exposure

The employer in this case is See’s Candies, a South San Francisco-based chocolate and candy company with several retail locations in California. The named plaintiff, Matilde Ek, was an employee for See’s Candies. She contends that she contracted COVID-19 in the workplace as a direct consequence of the company’s failure to take adequate safety precautions. 

Tragically, her husband, Arturo Ek, later passed away from complications related to COVID-19. Mrs. Ek filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of herself and her children on the grounds that her husband caught the virus from her because her employer (See’s Candies) failed to take the proper workplace safety measures. 

Legal Issue: Does the Exclusivity Defense Indemnify the Employer?

At this point in the process, the legal issue before the court was whether or not the plaintiff had the right to file this type of lawsuit at all. The employer countered that such a lawsuit was barred by state law because workerscompensation constitutes an “exclusive remedy.” As such, the employer could not be sued for a work-matter that should instead fall under workers’ comp. The plaintiff argues that the exclusive remedy does not apply in this specific circumstance. 

Decision: Workers’ Comp Exclusive Remedy Not Applicable 

Finding in favor of the plaintiff, the Second District Court of Appeal for the State of California has ruled the workers’ comp exclusivity defense does not apply to this case. Therefore, the wrongful death lawsuit may proceed. The appeals court noted that the workers’ comp exclusivity defense can apply to third party claims, emphasizing that harm to third parties “deemed collateral to or derivative of the employee’s injury” could fall under workers’ comp. 

However, the appeals court determined that exclusive remedy defense still does not apply to this case. The reason being that her husband’s exposure occurred in the home, outside of the workplace. Therefore, the Los Angeles based appeals court ruled that the illness suffered by Mr. Ek was not sufficiently connected to See’s Candles to have any potential lawsuit barred by workerscompensation 

Schedule a Confidential Consultation With a Work Injury Lawyer in Fresno

As an experienced workerscompensation lawyer, Joseph C. Yrulegui works tirelessly to help victims and their families navigate the legal process. We will help you maximize your financial support. Give us a call or send us a direct messageto set up a fully private case assessment. From our law office in Fresno, we represent injured workers throughout Central California.