Temporary disability (TD) benefits serve as wage replacement during the period an injured worker is healing from an industrial injury. An employer's obligation to pay TD benefits ceases when such replacement income is no longer needed. The obligation to pay TD benefits ends when the worker returns to work, is deemed able to return to work or when the worker's condition achieves permanent and stationary status.
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Under the judicially created going and coming rule, an employee's injury while commuting to and from work is not compensable under the workers' compensation system, absent special or extraordinary circumstances. That's because long ago, the California Supreme Court believed that an employee going to and from the place of employment did not render any service for the employer. (Ocean Accident and Guarantee Co. v. IAC (1916) 173 Cal. 313, 322.)
But, "In an effort to create a sharp line of demarcation as to when the employee's commute terminates and the course of employment commences, courts adopted the premises line rule, which provides that the employment relationship generally commences once the employee enters the employer's premises." (Wright v. State of California (2015) 233 Cal. App. 4th 1218, 1231.) Injuries occurring after an employee has arrived on the employer's premises generally are presumed compensable as arising in the course of employment. Moreover, what constitutes the employer's premises has been broadly interpreted. The Supreme Court has stated, "The employer's premises include his parking lot as well as plant or office, and once the employee has reached the premises, employment is not interrupted by crossing public property while traveling from one part of the premises to another." (General Insurance Co. v. WCAB (Chairez) (1976) 16 Cal. 3d 595, 598-599.)
In 2020, the California Legislature passed Senate Bill 1159 (SB 1159), which established a rebuttable presumption for specified employees that illness or death resulting from COVID-19 arose out of and in the course of employment. The presumptions were established in Labor Code §§ 3212.86, LC 3212.87 and LC 3212.88.
In the Senate Floor Analysis for SB 1159, the Legislature believed that the burden of fighting COVID-19 had fallen disproportionately on a small group of workers in both the private and public sectors. The presumptions were enacted to reduce the barriers to accessing the workers’ compensation system for essential workers suffering from COVID-19. So for several years, the COVID-19 presumptions made it easier for many workers to prove entitlement to workers' compensation benefits for illnesses related to COVID-19.
The Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) has historically and increasingly faced a struggle to handle the volume of cases that come its way. As a result, too often it has failed to take action on a filed petition for reconsideration within the statutorily required 60 days. To date, parties have been protected from that failure because it was deemed a due process right to have the petition reviewed by the WCAB. Currently, scores and perhaps hundreds of cases are in that situation. In a new appellate court case, Zurich American Insurance Co. v. WCAB, it all seems to have changed, leaving all those parties without a remedy, and changing the reconsideration demands on practitioners.
An employer must conduct utilization review (UR) to determine whether to approve, modify or deny a request for treatment. If the medical services have not been provided, Labor Code 4610(i)(1) normally requires the UR determination to be made within "five normal business days from the receipt of a request for authorization for medical treatment and supporting information reasonably necessary to make the determination, but in no event more than 14 days from the date of the medical treatment recommendation by the physician." California Code of Regulations § 9792.9.1(c)(3) generally requires prospective or concurrent UR decisions to be made within five business days from the date of receipt of the completed DWC form RFA (request for authorization).
Labor Code § 4062.2 establishes the procedure to be followed "[w]henever a comprehensive medical evaluation is required to resolve any dispute arising out of an injury or a claimed injury occurring on or after January 1, 2005, and the employee is represented by an attorney." A party may request a panel of qualified medical evaluators (QME panel) the first working day that's at least 10 days after the date of mailing a request for a medical evaluation pursuant to LC 4060, or the first working day that's at least 10 days after the date of mailing an objection pursuant to LC 4061 or LC 4062.
On June 22, 2023, in Nunes v. State of California, Dept. of Motor Vehicles, the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) issued an en banc holding that:
- Labor Code § 4663 "requires a reporting physician to make an apportionment determination and prescribes the standard for apportionment. The Labor Code makes no statutory provision for 'vocational apportionment.'"
- "Vocational evidence may be used to address issues relevant to the determination of permanent disability."
- "Vocational evidence must address apportionment, and may not substitute impermissible 'vocational apportionment' in place of otherwise valid medical apportionment."
On Aug. 1, 2023, the 2nd District Court of Appeal issued its decision in Earley v. WCAB invalidating the long-standing practice of the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) to grant petitions for reconsideration without first deciding whether reconsideration is warranted. The court held that grant-for-study orders violated Labor Code § 5908.5. But it also held that the WCAB is not required to issue a final ruling on the merits within 60 days. This case was discussed in detail in our previous article.