California: Genetic Causes May be Considered in Apportioning Liability for Work Injuries

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April 26, 2017

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On April 26, 2017, the California Third District Court of Appeal stated that genetic causes, including inherited predispositions, may be considered in medical evaluations to apportion the employer’s share of liability for work-related injuries.  This builds further upon the current standard for workers’ compensation injuries in which employers must compensate workers only for the portion of a disability caused by a work-related injury.

The case was City of Jackson v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board and Christopher Rice.  Rice worked as a police officer for City of Jackson and suffered a neck injury that required surgery.  A qualified medical examiner (“QME”) evaluated Rice both before and after his surgery.  Due to newly published studies in the medical field, the QME maintained the same diagnoses but reapportioned Rice’s disability to the following ratio: 17% caused by employment with the City, 17% caused by previous employment, 17% caused by personal activities, and 49% caused by his personal history, inclusive of genetic issues.  The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (“WCAB”) disagreed, stating that causation could not be assigned to genetics because genetics is an “impermissible immutable factor.”The appeals court pointed to inconsistencies in the WCAB’s past rulings, with specific regard to a 2008 case in which the WCAB had approved a QME’s findings of a pre-existing genetic predisposition contributing to the worker’s overall disability level.  The court found that the QME’s 17% apportionment of Rice’s injury based on employment activities with the City was correct, and that this determination was based on substantial medical evidence.

The court therefore remanded the case to the WCAB to issue a decision based on the QME’s findings.

 Action Items

  1. Review outstanding workers’ compensation claims in connection with this ruling.  The court’s opinion can be reviewed here.
  2. Subscribers can call our HR On-Call Hotline at (888) 378-2456 for further assistance.

Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser.

© 2017 ManagEase, Incorporated.

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