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Where a reasonable doubt exists as to whether an act of an employee is contemplated by the employment, or as to whether an injury occurred in the course of the employment, the Workers' Compensation Act, Cal. Lab. Code § 3202, requires courts to resolve the doubt against the right of the employee to sue for civil damages and in favor of the applicability of the Act.
Defendants Sea World and Kent Burgess have appealed from a judgment entered on a jury verdict awarding Anne E. Eckis $ 75,000 in compensatory damages. Plaintiff had sought both compensatory and punitive damages for personal injuries she sustained while riding "Shamu the Whale," framing her complaint on three theories: fraud, negligence, and liability for an animal with vicious or dangerous propensities. Before the case was submitted to the jury, the trial court denied Sea World's motion for a nonsuit on the fraud cause of action.
Was there substantial evidence to support the jury's finding that Eckis’ injuries did not occur in the course of her employment by Sea World?
The court reversed the judgment that awarded compensatory damages to Eckis and directed the superior court to enter a judgment for Sea World et al. The court held that the undisputed evidence did not, as a matter of law, support the jury's verdict for Eckis. The court determined that the evidence established that her injuries were compensable under the Workers' Compensation Act, Cal. Lab. Code § 3600 et seq. The court ruled that Eckis’ exclusive remedy was to instead proceed against Sea World et al. under the Act. The court decided therefore that the superior court should have granted Sea World et al.’s motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The court liberally construed the Act and found that Eckis’ injuries arose in the course of employment. Therefore, the court rejected Eckis’ contention that her injuries were unrelated to the secretarial duties for which she was originally hired.