The Spouse Of A Worker Injured By A Power Press Cannot Maintain An Action For Loss Of Consortium As That Spouse’s Claims Are Limited By The Workers’ Compensation Laws
LeFiell Manufacturing Co. v. Superior Court
(Cal. Sup. Ct.), filed August 20, 2012
O’Neil Watrous was injured while operating a power press while working for his employer, LeFiell Manufacturing Company. O’Neil sued LeFiell for damages for negligence, products liability, and a violation of Labor Code section 4558 (for failing to have a proper guard on the power press). His wife, Nidia, sought damages for loss of consortium based on O’Neil’s injuries.
LeFiell challenged the legal sufficiency of the complaint, asserting the O’Neil’s causes of action for negligence and products liability were barred by the exclusivity rule of the workers’ compensation laws. It also contended Nidia lacked standing to pursue or join in any cause of action for tort damages arising from the power press injury, and that her loss of consortium claim for damages was barred by the exclusivity rule and did not fall within any of the recognized statutory exceptions to that rule.
The trial court overruled LeFiell’s challenge to O’Neil’s causes of action for negligence and products liability. It sustained the challenge to all of Nidia’s causes of action except her claim for loss of consortium. It concluded that because O’Neil had pleaded sufficient facts to support the “power press exception” to the exclusivity rule, Nidia could properly assert a claim at law for loss of consortium.
The Court of Appeal directed the trial court to vacate its order overruling LeFiell’s challenge to O’Neil’s negligence and products liability causes of action, and to enter a new order dismissing those causes of action. It concluded that although there was an exception to the exclusivity rule for injuries involving power presses, to establish liability, an injured employee had to prove all of the elements of the exception, not just that the employer was negligent or that the product was defective.
The Court of Appeal concluded that Nidia’s loss of consortium claim fell outside the workers’ compensation laws and the exclusivity rule did not bar her claim.
HOLDING & REASONING
The California Supreme Court held that the Labor Code’s “power press exception” to the exclusivity rule applied to injured workers, or in the event of their death, to their heirs, but did not apply to a spouse’s claim for loss of consortium when the worker did not die. As a result, the Court held that the trial court should have dismissed Nidia’s loss of consortium claim as any such claim was subject to the exclusivity of the workers’ compensation laws.
Workers’ compensation exclusivity issues are frequently litigated. This time, the Supreme Court refused to establish another exception to exclusivity.