The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that over two million workers are victims of workplace violence every year. This often comes in the form of a worker being assaulted by another employee or a client or customer. When this occurs, in some cases, a worker may seek to receive compensation for injuries through workers’ compensation. The workers’ compensation system has certain exceptions and rules for work place violence. One of these special provisions can be found in California Labor Code 4660.1. This code provision provides that the impairment rating for a worker’s injury shall not be increased for sleep dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, or psychiatric disorder. An exception to this rule is if the worker was a victim of a violent act.
In the May 2016 case of Deborah Larsen v. Securitas Security Services, the issue became what constitutes a violent act for purposes of the exception under 4660.1. In that case, Deborah Larsen was acting as a security guard under the employ of Securitas. She was performing her typical duty of walking patrol through a parking lot when she was hit by a car and sustained injuries. She claimed that part of the injury included psychiatric disorder. The employer did not contest that she sustained a work-related physical injury or that she was entitled to compensation as a result. Instead, the employer argued that she was not entitled to compensation for the psychiatric injury. Ms. Larsen argued that she was entitled to compensation under the violent act exception contained in 4660.1(c). The WCAB noted that Ms. Larsen was “hit from behind with enough force to cause her to fall, hit her head, and lose consciousness.” The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board determined that this was sufficient to constitute a violent act. The WCAB also determined that a violent act under 4660.1(c) is not required to be an act that is criminal or quasi-criminal in nature. Instead, “it may include other acts that are characterized by either strong physical force, extreme or intense physical force, or are vehemently or passionately threatening.”
Another recent case also spoke to the issue of violent injury, and found that the violent act exception did not apply where the psychiatric injury was the result of the industrial accident and not as a result of the compensable physical injury.
If you are an employer and have questions about violence in the workplace in relation to workers’ compensation, call me today at (714) 516-8188. We can discuss your business, workplace violence, and workers’ compensation.