Los Angeles Serious & Willful Misconduct Claims Defense Lawyer

Under California law, employers are generally exempt from liability if an employee experiences a workplace accident or is injured doing work duties. Los Angeles workers who file for workers’ compensation will receive recovery compensation for damages from the employer’s insurance carrier.

However, an employee may still believe that the employer is at fault for the accident, and they attempt to file a claim against the company. In these cases, they do so under California Labor Code 4553, which holds an employer responsible for the injury under the presumption of serious and willful misconduct.

Serious and Willful Misconduct Defense Attorney in Los Angeles, CA

Bober, Peterson & Koby, LLP, attorneys are experienced in providing effective representation to employers on claims filed under these statutes. By law, these claims are not insurable and can be potentially costly to an employer, who pays for any award. By partnering with a defense attorney, you give yourself an opportunity to mount a strong defense against an employee who may be accusing you of intending harm.

If one of your employees has pursued a claim against you or your business, speak with a member of our team as soon as possible. We can guide you through the claim process and provide comprehensive legal counsel that covers workers’ compensation law and claims defense.

What Is Serious and Willful Misconduct in California?

When an employee files a workers’ compensation claim, the employer is generally protected from liability for the injury. However, there is an exception to this if the employee claims and legally proves that the harm was caused by serious and willful misconduct on the part of their employer.

In California, serious and willful misconduct is any intentional act, gross negligence, or disregard for safety that leads to an injury. There is a duty of care that employers owe their employees regarding safety, which must always be upheld. When an action strays away from that regard for safety, it can constitute willful misconduct.

The burden of proof on claims and cases involving serious and willful misconduct falls on the employee. To prove these cases, the claimant must specifically:

  • -Demonstrate the way in which the misconduct led to a violation.
  • -Show that the violation directly led to the injury, including how it led to the injury.
  • -Prove that the act was either deliberate or that the violation or disregard for safety was an obvious one in which the employer would have had a reasonable expectation to understand the potential safety consequences that would result from the violation.

Only if the claimant, the employee bringing the case against their employer, is able to prove all three points will their case succeed. Note that California makes a distinction between negligence and serious and willful misconduct.

Employers are exempt from personal injury claims in the workplace on account of negligence in most cases. However, serious and willful misconduct specifically involves either the intent to cause harm to the employee or a blatant disregard for their safety, meaning that they willfully allow harm to come to the employee. For situations involving intentional harm, claimants must also be able to demonstrate the intent to harm to prove their case.

What Is an Example of Serious and Willful Misconduct?

Serious and willful misconduct can manifest in one of three ways. As an employer, you would be guilty of serious and willful misconduct if you:

  • -Intentionally caused harm or injury to the employee. This is the least common scenario, but there would be several legal ramifications if any intentional action was taken against an employee with the purpose of causing harm.For example, physically assaulting, striking with equipment, or intentionally hitting an employee with a vehicle would all constitute serious and willful misconduct.
  • -Violated a safety order in the workplace. Safety orders are intended to ensure the safety and security of everyone in the company. A violation would include knowing of the conditions that called for the safety order, and the potential consequences of neglecting to address the concern, and still failing to take corrective action.For example, knowing that there was a gas leak that could potentially lead to an explosion and then asking employees to continue working anyway would constitute serious and willful misconduct if the gas leak later caused an explosion that injured an employee.
  • -Demonstrated extreme disregard for employee safety. Employers are legally expected to consider employee safety above other business concerns. Forcing employees to work in an environment or in a manner that is knowingly unsafe would constitute serious and willful misconduct.For example, aggressively engaging with an armed robber or requiring a driver to continue working during extreme weather conditions would demonstrate putting the concerns of the business over the safety of the crew in a blatantly irresponsible manner.

While these are merely examples of serious and willful misconduct, they demonstrate the extent to which a valid claim would have to prove that an intent to harm or a blatant disregard for safety was present to successfully level a claim against you.

What Is the Penalty for Serious and Willful Misconduct?

If serious and willful misconduct is found to have occurred, the amount of compensation otherwise recoverable shall be increased 50%, again paid by the employer. It is important for employers to have competent and experienced counsel if they are involved in these claims.

If an employer is found in violation of Labor Code Section 132(a), the employee’s compensation shall be increased by 50%, but in no event more than $10,000. Any such employee may also be entitled to reinstatement and reimbursement for lost wages and work benefits caused by a violation of the statute. It is important for employers to have competent and experienced counsel if they are involved in these claims.

Bober, Peterson & Koby defends employers when an employee’s injury is alleged to have been caused by an employer’s “serious and willful misconduct” under California Labor Code Section 4553. BPK attorneys are well-versed in the latest case law, changes in statutory law, and safety regulations. We work closely with safety managers and supervisors to bring the claim to resolution. Claims in this practice area can also involve third-party lawsuits and subrogation, all of which are within BPK’s vast experience.

Insurance Coverage

Employers may not insure against their possible liability for the 50 percent additional compensation, but their workers’ compensation insurance carrier may provide insurance against the expense of defending any suit brought by an injured worker alleging the employer’s serious and willful misconduct. Check with your insurance carrier to see what your policy entails.

When Should a Claim Be Settled?

Once a serious and willful misconduct claim has been made against you, the decision of whether to settle or to proceed with litigation involves several important considerations. It is necessary to evaluate every case on the basis of the specific facts involved. Given those, consider these issues before deciding on whether to settle the claim: 

  • -How strong is the evidence? It is necessary to assess the validity of the allegations being raised against you. Despite the complexity of these cases, the burden of proof is on the claimant, who is the injured worker in these cases.
  • -How much is the settlement amount? The financial implications of any decision should always be evaluated. Comparing the settlement figure to the risk of being held liable can help determine the most cost-effective course of action.
  • -What are the time, costs, and risks of litigation involved? Litigation is a lengthy and costly process without a guaranteed outcome. Even if you are successful in defending your case, there are still costs involved.

Taking these factors into consideration is necessary when deciding whether to pursue a settlement or take the case to court. When choosing, consider the strength of the evidence, the comparable amount to settle, and the time and money involved with litigation. For counsel on how to proceed, discuss your case with a Los Angeles serious and willful misconduct claims defense lawyer.

Contact Bober, Peterson & Koby, LLP

If your employee has filed a serious and willful misconduct claim against you, it is important that you seek the help of a qualified and experienced attorney right away. Bober, Peterson & Koby, LLP, offers legal counsel that is unmatched and tailored to your specific industry, company, scenario, and needs. With extensive knowledge of workers’ compensation and misconduct law, our team can help prepare a solid defense against unfair accusations of intent to harm on your part. For more information about our firm and our services or to schedule a consultation, contact Bober, Peterson & Koby, LLP, today.