California Workers’ Compensation Law Update – December 2022

Some recent bills have been signed into law that significantly change how California workers’ compensation claims are handled. Staying up to date on proposed changes and new legislation is crucial when it comes to litigating these claims for injured workers. If you have recently suffered a work-related injury or illness, you will want to make sure that any lawyer you hire is familiar with recent updates to laws that may affect your workers’ compensation claim.

California Workers’ Compensation Attorneys

The Law Office of Kneisler and Schondel is here to help you file your claim for workers’ compensation benefits under California law. Attorney Matthew A. Schondel and his legal team know what it takes to zealously advocate for injured workers. 

The Kneisler and Schondel team will work tirelessly for you to fight for the workers’ compensation benefits that you deserve after suffering a work-related injury or illness. Contact us today to learn more about what we can do to help you move forward with your workers’ compensation claim.

Significant Changes to Workers’ Compensation Law with Senate Bill 1127

California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed Senate Bill 1127 in September of 2022, which will have an impact on California workers’ compensation claims going forward. While SB 1127 goes into effect on January 1, 2023, certain aspects of it are retroactive.

The new bill, SB 1127, reduces the time period in which employers must determine liability on claims for injuries suffered by first responders that are presumed to be compensable. SB 1127 requires employers to make a liability determination on these claims within 75 days of filing, down from 90 days as it was previously.

This shortened time frame in which employers must determine liability applies to certain presumptions of injury or illness for certain safety officers, as listed in Labor Code Sections 3212 through 3212.85, along with sections 3212.9 through 3213.2. The injuries and illnesses within these sections of the Labor Code include cancer, heart trouble, pneumonia, hernias, tuberculosis, and blood-borne infections. Low back injuries are also included as a qualified presumption of injury for peace officers who wear a duty belt.

Increased Penalties for Unreasonable Workers’ Compensation Claim Denials for Safety Officers

In addition to shortening the time period for employers to make a liability determination for these types of work-related injuries or illnesses, SB 1127 also increases potential penalties. This penalty increase went from $10,000 to $50,000 for the unreasonable denial of a workers’ compensation claim made by certain safety officers, such as first responders and law enforcement officers. 

Although this bill formally goes into effect on January 1, 2023, in some cases, these penalties can apply retroactively. In other words, this harsher penalty can be implemented in cases involving injuries occurring prior to January 1, 2023.

Before the enactment of this bill, California law provided for a penalty to be paid by employers for wrongful denials of workers’ compensation claims in an amount of up to 25% more than the amount unreasonably denied, or $10,000 (whichever was less). However, SB 1127 requires employers to pay a penalty of five times the amount in unreasonably denied benefits, although this amount is not to exceed $50,000. This change to wrongful denial penalties to be paid by employers is applicable to specific injury claims made by a first responder or member of law enforcement.

Development of an Electronic Workers’ Compensation Information System

SB 1127 also makes it a requirement for the Administrative Director to develop an electronic workers’ compensation information system, in which data can be collected electronically. Some of this data would include the dates of acceptance, denial, or conditional denials for claims. 

This is a positive change that could benefit everyone within the workers’ compensation system in California—including both employers and injured workers. We look forward to the positive impact that an electronic information system for workers’ compensation claim data is expected to bring to all parties.

The Impact of Senate Bill 1127 on California Workers’ Compensation Claims

While it is too soon to tell exactly how SB 1127 will impact the California workers’ compensation system as a whole, employers and their attorneys have identified some concerns with these new requirements. Employers have noted that the (former) 90-day investigation period to make a liability determination for each claim was already difficult to adhere to—and they expect the new 75-day deadline to be extremely challenging to meet successfully.

However, it is critical to find a balance between acceptable requirements and deadlines for employers and ensuring that injured workers receive the medical care and other workers’ compensation benefits that they deserve. California employers have had an opportunity to prepare for this bill going into effect and have hopefully focused their efforts on streamlining their investigation process in order to meet the new 75-day deadline.

We believe this bill sets forth a necessary change that will benefit injured workers in California by no longer needlessly delaying workers’ compensation benefit payments for workers in need. It is also likely to benefit the state workers’ compensation system as a whole to become more efficient in making liability determinations and promptly issuing workers’ compensation benefits to the injured workers who are entitled to them.

Assembly Bill 1751 and COVID-19 Illness Presumptions for Work-Related Injuries or Illness

In September of 2022, Governor Newsom also signed Assembly Bill 1751 into law. This bill extends the current presumption of injury for certain public safety employees affected by an outbreak of COVID-19 at their place of employment. Injuries and illnesses that qualify for these presumptions will continue to qualify under this bill throughout January 1, 2024. Prior to the signing of this bill into law, these COVID-19 outbreak injury or illness presumptions were set to expire on January 1, 2023.

Another important change implemented with AB 1751 is an expansion of the types of employees who qualify for the presumption. Even without an outbreak, AB 1751 expands the presumption of a COVID-19-related injury or illness to include active firefighting members of any fire department at the State Department of Developmental Services, the State Department of State Hospitals, the Military Department, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and also to officers of state hospitals that are under the jurisdiction of the State Department of Developmental Services and the State Department of State Hospitals.

Senate Bill 284—PTSD Expansion Vetoed by California Governor Newsom

While Governor Newsom signed SB 1127 and AB 1751 into law, he vetoed another proposed bill that was set to make some changes to California workers’ compensation laws, SB 284. Senate Bill 284 proposed certain expansion changes to the existing rebuttable presumption for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to include additional groups of workers.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can develop in people who have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event or series of events. Generally, a diagnosis of PTSD requires that person to experience symptoms lasting for over a month. 

Another requirement for a diagnosis is that these symptoms must cause significant distress or result in difficulty with that individual’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis. PTSD can also present along with other related conditions, like substance abuse, memory problems, and depression. 

In some cases, PTSD can develop as a result of traumatic events experienced or witnessed at work or while performing work duties. There are certain professions in which a diagnosis of PTSD may be work-related. If you have been diagnosed with PTSD stemming from a work-related incident, a California workers’ compensation attorney can help you pursue workers’ compensation benefits so that you can focus on healing.

What Groups of Workers Were to be Included in the Expansion Proposed by SB 284?

The additional groups of workers that would have been a part of this expansion include dispatchers, telecom and emergency response communication workers, and safety officers. When vetoing this bill, Governor Newsom noted that it could set a dangerous precedent to expand the PTSD presumption before any studies are conducted on workers who currently qualify for the presumption. He also stated that he vetoed this bill out of concerns that it could potentially destabilize California’s workers’ compensation system, since it could encourage others to push for unsubstantiated presumptions. 

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for My Workers’ Compensation Case in California?

While there is no requirement under California law that you must hire a workers’ compensation lawyer to represent you, it can certainly be beneficial for your case to hire an attorney. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney will be able to help you file the proper paperwork needed to initiate your claim for workers’ compensation benefits. 

Additionally, if you encounter any problems throughout your case—such as a dispute over medical treatment or payment of benefits, you can count on your lawyer to jump in and work toward a resolution. Finally, if your benefits are denied or disputed for any reason, and you must proceed to a hearing for a determination of whether or not you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, your attorney will be knowledgeable about this process and will represent you and advocate on your behalf.