Picker's psychiatric claim barred because fall was not unusual
Case name: State Compensation Insurance Fund v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, No. B235258 (Cal. Ct. App. 03/28/12).
Ruling: The California Court of Appeal held that a picker's claim for a psychiatric injury was barred.
What it means: In California, a worker's sudden fall from a ladder while working in a job that required him to climb ladders is not uncommon, unusual, or unexpected. Under such circumstances, a worker's claim of psychiatric injury will be barred if he was employed for less than six months.
Summary: An avocado picker had been employed at a ranch for two months when he fell from the top of a 24-foot ladder while picking avocados from a high tree. He suffered a serious head injury and sought workers' compensation benefits for injuries to his teeth, psyche, neck, and back. The ranch's insurer admitted liability for the physical injuries. It denied the psychiatric injury because the picker had not been employed at the ranch for six months, as required by state law. The picker asserted that his claim was not barred by the six-month requirement because his psychiatric injury was caused by a "sudden and extraordinary employment condition." The California Court of Appeal held that the picker's claim for his psychiatric injury was barred.
The court explained that an employment event is sudden and extraordinary if the event was uncommon, unusual, and occurred unexpectedly. The picker's injury could not be described as uncommon, unusual, and unexpected. It did not occur in a public place or in an area shielded from the typical hazards of his job. The court described the picker's accident as terrible, but his fall was a hazard of performing work above ground level.
No unusual circumstances were present. Evidence did not show that something unusual happened to cause the fall or that he suffered an injury one would not expect from a fall from that height.
The picker said that prior to the accident he had never fallen off a ladder or heard of anyone else falling off a ladder at the ranch. However, the court said this was not strong evidence of extraordinariness. There was also no evidence that the ranch violated any safety regulations. The court explained that the fall did not become presumptively extraordinary just because the ranch did not show that it was regular or routine.
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May 21, 2012
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