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Workers' Compensation

California: Psychiatric Injury; Increased Permanent Disability; Violent Acts

The recent split panel opinion in Sturm v. Coronado Unified School District is particularly instructive on the issue of what constitutes a “violent act” under Labor Code § 4660.1(c)(2)(A). The Appeals Board discusses and distinguishes prior cases addressing Labor Code § 4660.1(c)(2)(A) and emphasizes that the mechanism of injury is the focus in evaluating whether an injury falls under the “violent act” exception to the bar against increased impairment ratings for compensable consequence psychiatric injuries. Additionally, the Appeals Board clarifies that the finding of a “violent act” is not dependent upon whether an employee’s injury is caused by an object under the employee’s own control or by an automated machine. Charlene Sturm v. Coronado Unified School District, 2021 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 4.

Here is the Lexis headnote:

Charlene Sturm, Applicant v. Coronado Unified School District, administered by Athens Administrators, Defendants, 2021 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 4

W.C.A.B. No. ADJ11260845—WCJ Alicia D. Hawthorne (SDO); WCAB Panel: Commissioner Snellings, Deputy Commissioner Schmitz, Commissioner Lowe (dissenting)

Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (Board Panel Decision)

Opinion Filed January 4, 2021

Psychiatric Injury—Increased Permanent Disability—Violent Acts—WCAB, in split panel opinion, affirmed WCJ’s finding that applicant who required amputation of her left index finger after sustaining industrial crush injury on 12/11/2017 was entitled to increased impairment rating for psychiatric injury, when WCAB panel majority concluded that mechanism of applicant’s injury constituted “violent act” pursuant to Labor Code § 4660.1(c)(2)(A) as it resulted from strong physical force when applicant closed heavy gate on her finger, thereby falling within exception to bar against separate impairment rating for psychiatric injury arising out of compensable physical injury, and WCAB found no meaningful distinction between mechanism of applicant’s injury and finger amputations described in Guerrero v. Ramcast Steel Fabrication (2017) 82 Cal. Comp. Cases 1222 (Appeals Board noteworthy panel decision), and Lopez v. General Wax Co., Inc., 2017 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 291 (Appeals Board noteworthy panel decision), which were caused by machines and were determined to be “violent acts,” and noted that mechanism of injury is focus in evaluating whether injury falls under Labor Code § 4660.1(c)(2)(A), that nothing in Labor Code § 4660.1(c)(2)(A) indicates finding of “violent act” is governed by whether injurious object is within employee’s control or is automated machine, and that applicant’s own conduct in closing gate on her finger was irrelevant in “violent act” analysis; Commissioner Lowe, dissenting, determined that applicant’s accidental closing of gate on her own finger did not involve sufficiently extreme force to be characterized as “violent act,” and that panel majority’s finding that applicant’s injury resulted from “violent act” expands application of Labor Code § 4660.1(c)(2)(A) in manner that allows exception to swallow rule. [See generally Hanna, Cal. Law of Emp. Inj. and Workers’ Comp. 2d §§ 4.02[3][a], [b], [f], 4.69[1], [3][a], 8.02[4][c][ii], [5], 32.02[2][a]; Rassp & Herlick, California Workers’ Compensation Law, Ch. 7, §§ 7.05[3][b][i][ii], 7.06[6], Ch. 10, § 10.06[3][a], [b][i].]