You may recall about a year ago we had the privilege of appearing before the California Supreme Court to argue a case based on Labor Code section 4558, which contains certain very limited exceptions to the rule requiring virtually all industrial accident cases to be handled in the Workers’ Compensation system. In this case, a temporary employee of our client, aerospace contractor LeFiell Manufacturing, was severely injured while operating a Swaging machine (a type of rotary forge). His claims for negligence and strict liability, in addition to section 4558 liability were disposed of in the trial court. We sought review of the lower courts’ opinions providing a claim for loss of consortium for his wife in the courts.
The result of that case was a unanimous ruling in our client’s favor holding that Labor Code section 4558 (generically known as the power press exception) is limited to the express language of the statute, and is to be narrowly construed, such that allegations of negligence were not permitted. The Court further held that a claim of loss of consortium could not stand against an employer when based upon the Labor Code exception. This case was unusual in several respects, notably because it was based solely upon the pleadings, before any testimony or discovery had occurred! After the published Supreme Court opinion, the balance of the case returned to the trial court for further proceedings.
After the trial court ruled against us on a motion for summary judgment, as to whether the removal of a door on the machine constituted a point of operation guard, thereby providing for a Section 4558 to be brought in the court, we sought appellate relief once again. The Court of Appeals took the case, and on August 6, 2014, issued its opinion overturning the trial court’s decision, ordering that the motion for summary judgment be GRANTED, and ordering the opinion PUBLISHED.
The decision is now outcome determinative meaning that all litigation in this matter is at an end, following a matter that arose in 2008. This new ruling is in some respects more significant than the prior Supreme Court opinion in that if clarified for the first time definitions in the law that had not been previously addressed. This Court has now defined a point of operation guard and the type of injury the statute was written to address. Here the injured worker was not in the point of operation where dies come in contact with a part being shaped in the machine. He was actually injured feet away from the die space, now defined as the point of operation guard. The Court agreed that to be actionable the worker must be injured directly in the point of operation. The Court held that as a matter of law (no longer a jury question) the removed door was not a point of operation guard, reversed the trial court’s ruling denying our prior motion for summary judgment, and directed the trial court to enter judgment for our client.
It is unusual for one case to have two published opinions on such issues that advance the law in the same statute. These two cases add to this firm’s history in refining Labor Code section 4558 and the power press exception. Below are links to both cases. Please contact us to discuss the finer points of the issues addressed by the Court.