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Workers' Compensation

California: Settlement of Civil Claims Against Employer; Release of Workers’ Comp Claims; Labor Code § 132a

In a recent Board panel decision, the WCAB affirmed the WCJ’s finding that applicant’s Labor Code § 132a claim was not included in a valid civil settlement agreement between applicant and his employer, nor were any remedies associated with the Labor Code § 132a claim precluded or invalidated by the civil settlement agreement. The parties’ civil settlement made no mention of applicant’s workers’ comp claims, nor was there any separate release pertaining to his workers’ comp claims. The WCAB found that parties intending to settle all outstanding disputed claims, both inside and outside the workers’ comp system, must clearly demonstrate their intent to do so by executing a separate release and following the requirements in Division 4 of the Labor Code, which the parties here did not do. Although Labor Code § 132a claims are not claims for workers’ comp benefits provided in Division 4 of the Labor Code, they concern rights incidental to such claims and, therefore, are subject to the settlement approval requirements set forth in Labor Code §§ 5000-5006 of Division 4. Labor Code § 5000(a) expressly prohibits releases that purport to exempt employers from liability for workers’ comp benefits without limiting the parties’ legal ability to settle their disputes in manner provided by Division 4, and that under Division 4, all releases of liability, including those encompassing Labor Code § 132a claims, must be submitted to and approved by the WCAB, which was not done in this case. See Vaca noteworthy panel decision, 2020 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. LEXIS 377.

Subsequent History Note: The Court of Appeal denied defendant's petition for writ of review as premature on Nov. 20, 2020.

Reminder: Board panel decisions are not binding precedent.

VACA_EDWARD.pdf