Workers’ Compensation and Product Liability

The workers’ compensation system has an extensive system of legislation determining what type of injury is eligible under the system.  Workers’ compensation legislation also provides that the system is a “no-fault” system.  This means that the employee is not obligated to prove that the employer’s negligent or intentional conduct was the direct or indirect cause of the conditions that lead to the work-related injury.  The system also limits the ways in which an injured employee can seek to recover; an employee is generally prevented from filing a civil suit in court while also pursuing recovery through workers’ compensation.  One of the exceptions regarding this rule involves product liability.

Product liability actions mean that the manufacturer of a product can be held liable in some situations when the equipment malfunctions and causes injury.  Product liability comes into play with workers’ compensation most often when an employee is injured by defective equipment in the workplace.  The employer can then seek to recover or receive reimbursement from the manufacturer for the costs the employer has had to pay through workers’ compensation.  For example, if an employee is badly burned when an oven malfunctions and the worker then files for workers’ compensation, the employer can then seek to recover the money it had to pay to the employee from the manufacturer of the oven.

Another way that products liability can figure into workers’ compensation is through the operation of a power press.  Some employers may be tempted to remove certain safety precautions installed on power presses in the interest of increasing productivity and profit.  A power press is specifically identified as any material-forming machine used to die, press, impact, stamp, punch, or extrude material.  Power presses do not income those machines simply used to cut material.  Under California Labor Code § 4558, if an employer knowingly removes the guard, the employee may be able to recover both in civil court and in through workers’ compensation.  However, if a manufacturer-installed the press, or designed it in such a way as to make it unsafe, the manufacturer may be on the hook for the employee’s injuries instead of the employer.

We have extensive experience helping our clients understand how products liability fits into workers’ compensation.  Call us today to talk about your case and your business.

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