Legal Opinion - 2004 Work Comp Apportionment Law Changes Did Not Change Rule Against Apportioning Injury Caused by Work Comp Medical Treatment, Court Holds

Publish Date:Jul 05, 2017
Summary:
In Hikida v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, which was filed on June 22, 2017, the California Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District) annulled a Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) decision which concluded that an employee's workers' compensation permanent disability award should be apportioned based on the percentage of the disability that was caused by the unsuccessful workers' compensation medical treatment which the employee received.

In Hikida v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, which was filed on June 22, 2017, the California Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District) annulled a Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) decision which concluded that an employee's workers' compensation permanent disability award should be apportioned based on the percentage of the disability that was caused by the unsuccessful workers' compensation medical treatment which the employee received.

Maureen Hikida developed carpel tunnel syndrome arising out of her employment with Costco.  As part of her workers' compensation medical treatment, Hikida underwent carpel tunnel surgery.  Following the surgery, Hikida developed chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS).  The agreed medical examiner concluded that Hikida's permanent total disability was due to the CRPS which Hikida developed as the result of the failed carpel tunnel surgery. 

The WCAB reviewed the Legislature's 2004 changes to the workers' compensation apportionment statutes and decided that those changes justified apportionment of Hikida's permanent disability award between the percentage of the disability caused by Hikida's work-related carpal tunnel syndrome and the percentage caused by the failed surgery.  Pursuant to the apportionment, the percentage of the disability caused by the surgery was not compensable.  Hikida petitioned the Court of Appeal for review of the WCAB's decision.

The Court of Appeal annulled the WCAB's decision.  The central issue in the case is whether the changes to the workers' compensation apportionment statutes which were enacted in 2004 changed the longstanding rule that an employer has the responsibility to compensate for medical treatment and the consequences of medical treatment without apportionment.

The court observed that prior to 2004, statutes constrained the apportionment workers' compensation disability.  Those statutes were re-written in 2004.  In a 2007 ruling, the California Supreme Court noted that the 2004 enactments created a "new approach to apportionment" that "look[s] at the current disability and parcel[s] out its causative sources - - nonindustrial, prior industrial, current industrial - - and decide[s] the amount directly caused by the current industrial source."  

California appellate court decisions have established the rule that an employer is responsible for all workers' compensation medical treatment and the expense for that treatment is not apportionable.  Courts have also ruled that the aggravation of a work-related injury resulting from workers' compensation medical treatment is compensable under the California's workers' compensation laws.

The question before the Court of Appeal was whether the "new approach to apportionment" enacted in 2004 changed these rules.  The court answered the question in the negative and explained, "Nothing in the 2004 legislation had any impact on the reasoning that has long supported the employer's responsibility to compensate for medical treatment and the consequences of medical treatment without apportionment."

The court concluded that the WCAB erred when it decided that the 2004 legislation justified the apportionment of Hikida's workers' compensation disability award.

A copy of the Court of Appeal's opinion is available at www.courts.ca.gov

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