Substantial Justice

Is There Justice in The Workers’ Compensation System? Justice, Substantial Justice & Workers’ Compensation: What You Need to Know

“No, you can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
And if you try sometimes you find
You get what you need”

Rolling Stones


A frequent question asked by clients and prospective clients concerning their work injuries is:

“Will I get justice when I pursue my workers’ compensation case?”

The answer to their question is:

“no, you will not get justice.”  however “you are entitled to substantial justice.”

This article will discuss the concept of “substantial justice” and why it applies to injured workers within the workers’ compensation system.

The Workers’ Compensation “No Fault” Trade-Off

California Workers’ Compensation Law is premised upon bargaining between employers and employees.   In exchange for giving up access to the regular civil litigation laws of the State of California concerning their employers and injuries that occur in the workplace,  the California Constitution provides that the State provides “[a] complete system of workers’ compensation includes adequate provisions for the comfort, health and safety and general welfare of any and all workers and those dependent upon them for support to the extent of relieving them from the consequences of any injury or death incurred or sustained by workers in the course of their employment, irrespective of the fault of any party.” Cal Const, Art. XIV § 4

What is Justice?

Per Black’s Law Dictionary Fifth Edition, “Justice” is defined as the proper administration of laws. In Jurisprudence, the constant and perpetual disposition of legal matters or disputes to render every man his due.”

What is Substantial Justice?

Substantial Justice has a variety of meanings.  Substantial Justice includes that a matter is done in an expeditious manner.  Substantial Justice includes that a matter is done inexpensively.  Substantial Justice includes that the process is done without incumbrance of any character.  See Associated Construction vs. WCAB (1978) 43 C.C.C. 1333; Dubon v. World Restoration, Inc., 79 Cal. Comp. Cases 313, 2014 Cal. Wrk. Comp. LEXIS 21 (W.C.A.B. February 27, 2014)

Substantial Justice also has some meaning with respect to Trial proceedings before a Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.  There is a line of cases in which Substantial Justice includes the need for the Judge to decide cases based upon an adequate record.   See Tyler v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd., supra, 56 Cal.App.4th at pp. 392–394McClune v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (1998) 62 Cal.App.4th 1117, 1120 [72 Cal. Rptr. 2d 898, 63 Cal. Comp. Cases 261]M/A Com-Phi v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd., supra, 65 Cal.App.4th at p. 1025.)

Also, see Labor Code Sections 5701 and 5906, as interpreted by a long line of cases, that the Appeals Board has both the authority and the duty to further develop the record when necessary to accomplish substantial justice by obtaining additional evidence, including medical evidence, at any time during the proceedings. (Lundberg v. Workmen’s Comp. Appeals Bd. (1968) 69 Cal.2d 436, 440 [445 P.2d 300, 71 Cal. Rptr. 684]  That authority and duty, however, is not absolute. In San Bernardino Community Hospital v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (McKernan) (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 928, 935–937 [88 Cal. Rptr. 2d 516] [64 Cal.Comp.Cases 986, 991–993], the Court held that the power of the Appeals Board or of a WCJ to further develop the record under sections 5701 and 5906 cannot be used to circumvent the clear intent and language of section 5502(d)(3) [now section 5502(e)(3)].

Where Does Substantial Justice Come From?

In Workers’ Compensation, the concept of “Substantial Justice” comes from the California State Constitution.   Workers’ Compensation Law is derived from the Constitution. Cal Const, Art. XIV § 4 provides the basis for the workers’ compensation system within California. The stated goal of the workers’ compensation system is to “accomplish substantial justice in all [workers’ compensation] cases expeditiously, inexpensively, and without incumbrance of any character; all of which matters are expressly declared to be the social public policy of this State, binding upon all departments of the State government.”[emphasis added]

As an Injured Worker, Why Should I be concerned that I am getting Substantial Justice rather than Justice?

 

As an Injured Worker, there should be some concern over substantial justice.   Substantial Justice, many times, works in favor of the injured worker.   Substantial Justice allows for expeditious, inexpensive and litigation which does not encumber the character of an individual.  Further, the Judge deciding the case is required to make an adequate record when deciding a case. Substantial Justice also provides for a “no fault” system to collect benefits. Substantial Justice, however, does not provide for the full accouterment of discovery and law and motion that is available in a Civil Court.  Also, the matters are heard in an Administrative Law Court and there will be no jury to render a decision. Finally, worker’s compensation benefits are capped per the Labor Code.

In a System Guided by Substantial Justice, What Should I Expect? 

Substantial Justice means that an Injured Worker will move through the workers’ compensation in an expeditious fashion. A determination for liability will be made within 90 days from the employer knowledge of the claim. An Injured Worker, under general circumstances, will be entitled to one Qualified Medical Evaluator who can make medical opinions on whether the injury is work-related.  The Injured Worker will have access to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board to have their claim adjudicated.   Their claim, unlike civil cases in which there is the entitlement to a jury, will be heard and decided by an Administrative Law Judge.  Further, the Workers’ Compensation Judge will make efforts to ensure that there is an adequate record developed.

What if I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding your workers’ compensation claim, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 26 years. Contact us today for more information.