Serious and Willful Misconduct Claims In California’s Workers’ Compensation
When a workers’ compensation claim is brought in California, the general range of benefits includes medical treatment, temporary disability, permanent disability, and lifetime future medical treatment. Sometimes, however, it may be possible to file an additional claim for serious and willful misconduct. The threshold of proof is high, but it is met, it can increase the value of a benefits claim as much as 50%.
Serious and Willful Conduct Workers Compensation Claims
Serious and willful conduct claims are governed by California Labor Code sections 4553 and 4553.1. As its description implies, serious and willful conduct involves more than mere negligence. Negligence generally covers carelessness. Serious and willful conduct, on the other hand, implies intent with regard to the causation of an injury. An employer’s knowledge or reckless disregard or a high likelihood or work conditions to result in an employee being injured, if proven, will provide strong support for a claim alleging serious and willful conduct. The same is true of evidence that an employer specifically intended for an injury to occur to an employee. Additionally, serious and willful misconduct may be proven with evidence that an employer disregarded California OSHA safety orders. Here, evidence that an employer was on notice from OSHA regarding inadequate safety practices, yet repeatedly disregarded orders to institute proper procedures, will provide strong support to allegations of serious and willful misconduct.
A successful serious and willful conduct claim is potentially very lucrative because of the extent of the 50% increase of the value of the overall workers’ compensation benefits. What this means is that a 50% increase is not just levied with regard to an award of temporary or permanent disability benefits; it is also applied to medical treatment and lifetime future medical treatment. Because these costs can be so high, to increase them by 50% via a successful serious and willful misconduct claim can function to dramatically increase the overall award. Importantly, even though the larger award derives from calculations tied to medical treatment, the additional 50% goes to the injured employee rather than the healthcare system. In this way, a serious and willful misconduct functions somewhat like a punitive damages award in the civil justice system: it serves to punish the offending party for egregious conduct and hopefully deter them from repeat offenses.
A serious and willful misconduct claim is very difficult to bring, as the threshold of proof is high. However, this is not to say that there do not exist valid claims of this nature. On the contrary, some employer acts or failures to act warrant such a claim. If you feel that you have been the victim of serious and willful misconduct at the workplace, contact an experienced California workers’ compensation attorney. An attorney will help you determine your legal rights, and fight to get the compensation you need and deserve for injuries suffered on the job.