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Special Report: Understanding the Impact of California Minimum Wage Changes on Temporary Disability Rates

Effective April 1, 2024, the minimum wage for many California fast-food workers increased from $16 to $20 an hour. The changes were brought by Assembly Bill (AB) 1228, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 28, 2023. AB 1228 added Labor Code § 1474, § 1475 and § 1476.[1]

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Change of Treating Physician After Discharge from Care

Nearly one-quarter century ago, in Tenet/Centinela Hospital Medical Center v. WCAB (Rushing) (2000) 80 Cal. App. 4th 1041, the Court of Appeal held that when a treating physician has declared the employee's injury to be permanent and stationary, has released the employee to return to work and has prescribed no further doctor-involved treatment or visits, the employee did not have a right to change treating doctors just because future medical care was warranted. Instead, the court explained that the employee was required to comply with the provisions of California Code of Regulations, Title 8, § 9785(b), and Labor Code § 4061 and § 4062, to change primary treating doctors (PTPs).

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WCAB Issues En Banc Order and Notice of Intent to Impose Sanctions for Filing Frivolous Petitions for Reconsideration

When a party disputes an order, decision, or award issued by a workers' compensation judge (WCJ), there are two options for appeal. Pursuant to Labor Code § 5900, a party may file a petition for reconsideration of a "final order, decision, or award made and filed by the appeals board or a workers' compensation judge." On the other hand, LC 5310 states, "The appeals board may ... remove to itself, or transfer to a workers' compensation administrative law judge the proceedings on any claim." A petition for removal is the appropriate remedy for interim, nonfinal orders.

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SPECIAL REPORT: WCAB Issues Significant Panel Decision That It Will Continue to Follow Shipley

As discussed in an earlier Special Report, for more than 30 years, the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) relied on Shipley v. WCAB (1992) 7 Cal. App. 4th 1104 to decide petitions for reconsideration, even if it did not act timely on a petition pursuant to Labor Code § 5909. That statute states, "A petition for reconsideration is deemed to have been denied by the appeals board unless it is acted upon within 60 days from the date of filing." Based on Shipley, the WCAB generally held that if a petition was not considered within the time limit of LC 5909 due to the WCAB's own inadvertent error, it still may decide the merits of the petition, even if the 60-day time period has elapsed. On Dec. 18, 2023, the 2nd District Court of Appeal issued its decision in Zurich American Insurance Co. v. WCAB (2023) 97 Cal. App. 5th 1213, holding that this practice was improper. Zurich stated that "the language and purpose of section 5909 show a clear legislative intent to terminate the Board's...

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Liability for Temporary Disability When Employee Refuses Work

Temporary disability (TD) benefits serve as wage replacement during the period an injured worker is healing from an industrial injury. An employer's obligation to pay TD benefits ceases when such replacement income is no longer needed. The obligation to pay TD benefits ends when the worker returns to work, is deemed able to return to work or when the worker's condition achieves permanent and stationary status.

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Understanding the Premises Line Rule

Under the judicially created going and coming rule, an employee's injury while commuting to and from work is not compensable under the workers' compensation system, absent special or extraordinary circumstances. That's because long ago, the California Supreme Court believed that an employee going to and from the place of employment did not render any service for the employer. (Ocean Accident and Guarantee Co. v. IAC (1916) 173 Cal. 313, 322.) But, "In an effort to create a sharp line of demarcation as to when the employee's commute terminates and the course of employment commences, courts adopted the premises line rule, which provides that the employment relationship generally commences once the employee enters the employer's premises." (Wright v. State of California (2015) 233 Cal. App. 4th 1218, 1231.) Injuries occurring after an employee has arrived on the employer's premises generally are presumed compensable as arising in the course of employment. Moreover, what constitutes the...

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Special Report: What Happens After the COVID-19 Presumptions Are Repealed?

In 2020, the California Legislature passed Senate Bill 1159 (SB 1159), which established a rebuttable presumption for specified employees that illness or death resulting from COVID-19 arose out of and in the course of employment. The presumptions were established in Labor Code § 3212.86, LC 3212.87 and LC 3212.88. In the Senate Floor Analysis for SB 1159, the Legislature believed that the burden of fighting COVID-19 had fallen disproportionately on a small group of workers in both the private and public sectors. The presumptions were enacted to reduce the barriers to accessing the workers’ compensation system for essential workers suffering from COVID-19.1 So for several years, the COVID-19 presumptions made it easier for many workers to prove entitlement to workers' compensation benefits for illnesses related to COVID-19.

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Special Report: WCAB Must Act on Petition for Reconsideration Within 60 Days

The workers' compensation appeals board (WCAB) has historically and increasingly faced a struggle to handle the volume of cases that come its way. As a result, too often it has failed to take action on a filed petition for reconsideration within the statutorily required 60 days. To date, parties have been protected from that failure because it was deemed a due process right to have the petition reviewed by the WCAB. Currently, scores and perhaps hundreds of cases are in that situation. In a new appellate court case, Zurich American Insurance Co. v. WCAB, it all seems to have changed, leaving all those parties without a remedy, and changing the reconsideration demands on practitioners. Labor Code § 5909 states, "A petition for reconsideration is deemed to have been denied by the appeals board unless it is acted upon within 60 days from the date of filing." It was not uncommon for the WCAB to grant reconsideration beyond the 60-day period due to its own errors or inefficiencies. But...

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Reopening Claims Dismissed for Lack of Prosecution

California Code of Regulations § 10550 outlines the procedure for dismissing a case for lack of prosecution, often referred to as a dismissal for inactivity. In simple terms, if a case is not activated for hearing within a year from the filing of the application for adjudication or an order taking it off the calendar, the case may be dismissed.

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Expedited Review of Requests for Treatment

An employer must conduct utilization review (UR) to determine whether to approve, modify or deny a request for treatment. If the medical services have not been provided, Labor Code 4610(i)(1) normally requires the UR determination to be made within "five normal business days from the receipt of a request for authorization for medical treatment and supporting information reasonably necessary to make the determination, but in no event more than 14 days from the date of the medical treatment recommendation by the physician." California Code of Regulations § 9792.9.1(c)(3) generally requires prospective or concurrent UR decisions to be made within five business days from the date of receipt of the completed DWC form RFA (request for authorization).

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