COULD A SPIRITED FIGHT AT THE AIRPORT BE A WORK INJURY? INJURED WORKER IN THE NEWS, #56

A Texas airline agent was suspended after being caught in a wild viral video trading blows with a woman.  Reportedly, the customer yelled racial and homophobic slurs at him.  The video of the incident is available on the internet.   Nypost.com

The video was remarkable. At one point, agent and the customer were separated by an individual.  At one point, it appears that the customer reached over and initiated contact with the agent.  This contact appears to infuriate the agent.  The video shows a number of interactions.

Hypothetically, we are going to assume that the agent sustained an injury during the encounter and that it occurred after the alleged touching by the customer.  Which actions on the video was physical contact? Who make the first aggressive physical contact?  Note: this hypothetical will not address the possibility of a psyche claim.  The incident involved racial and homophobic slurs by the customer which could provide a basis for such a claim.

If so, could the agent have a legitimate valid physical injury workers’ compensation case?  This article will discuss how this question would be addressed within the California Workers’ Compensation System.

What Is the Defense Against This Claim?

In California, there is an  initial aggressor defense.  A claim can be barred “[w]here the injury does not arise out of an altercation in which the injured employee is the initial physical aggressor.” This is per Labor Code Section 3600.   In this matter, determining whether the  agent was the initial physical aggressor is quite confusing.  It is possible that not all of the interactions were caught on tape.  Likewise, whether certain actions constituted physical aggression is a matter of interpretation.

With this said, the interaction in this matter was quite complex.  An insurance carrier may deny the claim based upon the fact that there was contact that arguably was initiated by the agent.

Since There May Be A Dispute On A Matter Like This, How Would It Be Handled In The Workers’ Compensation System?

In California, there is the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.  The Board has local offices.  These offices have Judges that are able to adjudicate claims.  These Judges are called Administrative Law Judges or ALJs.  Not only do ALJs try cases, they also act as the “finder of fact.”  Since the Judge is the “finder of fact,” there is no need for a jury.  Jud  Thus, there are no jury trial in workers’ compensation.  All decision as made by the Judge.

In a case like this hypothetical, the Judge would likely receive testimony from the Injured Worker and other witnesses.  Also, the video of the event most likely would be taken into evidence as well.  The Judge would examine all of the evidence to make a determination as to whether the employee was the the initial physical aggressor.

What if I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for 27 years. Contact us today for more information.

REMOTE WORKERS’ COMPENSATION TRIALS VS. IN PERSON TESTIMONY: THE WORKERS’ COMPENSATION APPEALS BOARD SIGNIFICANT PANEL DECISION: A WORKERS’ COMPENSATION ATTORNEY’S VIEW: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

In WCAB vs. Chevron (2021), the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board issued a Significant Panel Decision on with respect to how California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board have trials done remotely. Currently, the WCAB uses a “zoom” like product called Lifesize to conduct their trials.

What Was the Chevron Case issue?

In Chevron, in person testimony was taken. After the change to remote testimony, there was additional witness testimony. The Workers’ Compensation Judge on the matter did not want to proceed. The issue was essentially whether all testimony be taken in the same manner.  Thus, there was the argument that the matter be delayed until “in person” testimony could take place.

The Applicant wished the matter to proceed with remote testimony rather than wait.

What Was the Ruling?

In the particular case, the WCAB ordered the trial to proceed with remote testimony.

The WCAB, ruled that “each case must be resolved according to its own particular circumstances, and it would therefore be inappropriate to institute a blanket rule that it is per se unreasonable to continue a case to allow for in-person testimony.”

“However, in consideration of Executive Order N-63-20, the purposes of the workers’ compensation system, and current conditions, the default position should be that trials proceed remotely, in the absence of some clear reason why the facts of a specific case require a continuance. Moreover, as the party seeking the continuance, the burden should be on defendant in this case to demonstrate why a continuance is required.” [emphasis added]

What Facts Would Required for “In Person” Testimony?

 At trials, Judges have the opportunity to view Injured Workers when they are not testifying.  They see them  sitting and observing the trial, and they see them walking up to take the stand to testify, and they see them during break time.  Additionally, they are able to view the Injured Worker’s posture during testimony.  Thus, it is possible to view whether someone is exhibiting pain behavior.

Based upon my 29 year Trial Attorney experience, an Applicant’s live testimony is  important when there is an allegation of marked or profound  disability.  Thus, if an Injured Worker has a severe limp, a Judge would be able to observe it if there was live testimony.   This observation is not possible with remote testimony.

Thus, matters in which observation of the Applicant is of import would be the cases upon which a party may wish to have “in person” testimony.

What If I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for 27 years. Contact us today for more information.

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