Defending a Serious and Willful Claim

When an employee sustains a work-related injury, an employer may very well be on the hook for the costs of medical care for the injury through the workers’ compensation system.  The workers’ compensation system is designed as “no fault” system, meaning that in order to receive compensation for the injury, the employee does not have to make any demonstration that the injury was somehow the fault of the employer.  In some limited situations, an employee may make an additional claim under the “Serious and Willful Misconduct” provisions of California Labor Code § 4553.  This code states that if an employer is   found to have caused an employee’s injury through “serious and willful misconduct” they will be ordered to pay an amount that is equal to half the value of all the benefits paid to the employee as a result of the injury.  Clearly, this can amount to a large amount of money.  Moreover, an employer cannot insure against serious and willful claim.  Accordingly, it is important that employers have a firm understanding of how to defend against such a claim.

The most obvious way is to make every effort to make sure that such a claim is never made at all.  An employer can take these steps by being vigilant about the condition of the work place.  Repairs and renovations necessary to keep a worker safe should be promptly made.  Employee complaints about safe working conditions should be reasonably heeded, and an employer should make repairs to working conditions when necessary.

That aside, an employee must prove that an employer failed to act, even though the employer had knowledge that a serious injury would probably result in order to prevail on such a claim.  Therefore, to defend against a “serious and willful” claim, a defense may focus on several areas.  An employee must demonstrate that an employer knew that the danger existed.  A good defense to this will for an employer to be meticulous about documenting each and every report from any employee complaining about a working safety condition.  If no employee every made a complaint about the condition that caused the injury, it could be difficult to prove that an employer knew of the risk.  Another way to defend against such a claim is to document the steps that the employer took in order to improve the risk of injury.  If an employer had taken steps to make sure that no injury would occur, this will provide an excellent defense, as an employee needs to prove a failure to act, not a failure to act appropriately.

Serious and willful claims are serious, and you need an experienced attorney to help you navigate these claims.  We can review your business together to help you with any claim your business is facing.  Contact us today at (714) 516-8188 if you have questions about Serious and Willful Misconduct Defense.

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