Court says employer should not pay for all permanent disability

July 2, 2007

The California Supreme Court has rejected an appeal of an injured electrician, affirming a lower court’s ruling that an employer is not responsible for permanent disability it did not cause.

In Larry Gossett vs. WCAB and Morrow-Meadows Corp., questioned whether an employer is responsible for all of an injured worker’s permanent disability when there was pre-existing arthritis but the injured worker had no symptoms many years before his 2003 workers’ compensation injury.

The workers’ comp arbitrator initially ruled that apportionment did not apply and awarded Gossett 76 percent disability. The employer appealed. On appeal, the Workers Compensation Appeals Board overturned the arbitrator’s award and issued an award allocating 15 percent of the PD to the pre-existing arthritis. Gossett appealed the new WCAB award of 65 percent, contending there should be no apportionment of PD because he did not have arthritis symptoms 10 years before his workers’ comp injury. The Court of Appeal rejected Gossett’s argument, and the Supreme Court refused to grant the petition for review.

According to Bradford & Barthel LLP, which represented the employer, this case is an example that the workers’ comp reforms enacted in 2004 are working to correct inequities in the system.

One of the inequities was the concept of apportionment, or assigning responsibility for an injury based on causation. “The Supreme Court, in affirming the lower court’s decision, is placing a stamp of approval on the 2004 reforms,” the firm said in a statement. “In Gossett’s case, the Court recognized the severe arthritis from a prior knee injury and allocated a portion of permanent disability award to the prior pathology, even though there were no symptoms for many years before the recent knee injury and Gossett was able to continue his job as an electrician. The Court, in its ruling, allocated responsibility to the employer by only that which the employer caused.”

“It’s basically a fairness concept and encourages California employers to hire the disabled, those with prior injuries, even the elderly, without concern of liability for pathology, which was not caused on their watch,” said the firm’s Kent Ball.

To view the ruling, visit http://appellate cases.courtinfo.ca.gov/search/case/mainCaseScreen.cfm?dist=0&doc_id=470652&doc_no=S152458.

Topics Workers' Compensation Commercial Lines Business Insurance

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