A California workers’ compensation statute bars claims for psychiatric injuries if the applicant was employed less than six months. This bar does not apply if the psychiatric injury was caused by a “sudden and extraordinary employment condition.”
In this action, the plaintiff had been employed for two months when he fell from a 24-foot ladder while picking avocados from a high tree. He suffered a serious and obvious head injury and sought workers' compensation benefits for industrial injury to his teeth, psyche, neck and back.
The employer’s insurer admitted liability for the industrial physical injury, but denied the psychiatric injury because the plaintiff had not worked for the employer for at least six months.
The plaintiff claimed entitlement to benefits under the exception for injuries caused by sudden and extraordinary employment conditions. He presented evidence that in 18 years of this type of work he had never fallen from a ladder and that no employee of this employer had ever fallen from a ladder.
A workers’ compensation judge ruled the plaintiff had established that the injury was the result of a sudden and extraordinary employment condition and approved the claim. A motion for reconsideration was denied by the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB).
On appeal, the appellate court ruled that the plaintiff’s fall was sudden but not extraordinary within the meaning of the statute’s exception. Falling is an occupational hazard of picking fruit while standing on a ladder, and thus is not uncommon, unusual or unexpected. The court annulled the decision of the WCAB and remanded with instructions to deny the claim for psychiatric injury.
See: State Compensation Ins. Fund v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Bd, 204 Cal.App.4th 766, 139 Cal.Rptr.3d 215 (Cal.App. 2 Dist. Mar 28, 2012).