Happy Monday, dear readers!
Your humble blogger, on a few occasions, has raised the question: what the heck is a catastrophic injury? After all, we really don’t know what sort of injury would prompt a compensable consequence psyche injury to trigger liability for permanent disability (or possibly temporary disability), right?
Well, enter Senate Bill 897 – and this one is a real beauty!
SB897 passed the senate and the assembly recently, and would basically extend the wage continuation for injured public safety employees (firefighters, police officers, sheriff’s deputies, etc.) from one year to two years, if the employee sustained a “catastrophic injury at the hands of another.” Now, whatever the merits of replacing two years of temporary disability with two years of wage continuation at the expense of tax payers, this would give us a working definition of the term “catastrophic.”
Labor Code section 4660.1(c)(2)(B) already provides with some parameters for a catastrophic injury: “including, but not limited to, loss of a limb, paralysis, severe burn, or severe head injury.”
SB897 defines a “catastrophic injury at the hands of another” as “severe burns, severe bodily injuries resulting from the collapse of a building, or severe bodily injuries resulting from a shooting, stabbing, or battery.” Well, 4660.1 already provides that being a victim of a violent act or direct exposure to a significant violent act makes the compensable consequence psyche injury eligible for PD and TD, so, in that sense, there’s already overlap with the “shooting, stabbing, or battery” and the same applies for “severe burns.”
But the last component, “severe bodily injuries resulting from the collapse of a building” gives us an idea of how serious the injury needs to be to qualify as catastrophic. It’s not the effect on the injured worker’s life. It’s not the effect on the injured worker’s earning capacity. It’s something akin to being in a building collapse!
Your humble blogger has been doing this workers’ comp game for a while now, and I can tell you that simply being exposed to the workers’ compensation system – as an injured worker, employer, attorney, or judge – should qualify a person for having sustained an injurious exposure of a severe and catastrophic nature. But we practitioners must brush it off, soldier on, and soothe our wounds with sugared pastries and grapes refined into their superior form.
But an injury that results in an injured worker having to go through the workers’ comp system, being kept in limbo while becoming an unwitting expert in the art of Kafka, does not qualify as “catastrophic.”
Burned to a crisp? Catastrophic.
Shot, stabbed, or beaten up? Catastrophic.
Involved in a building collapse or plane crash or train derailment? Probably catastrophic.
You can’t work anymore so you lost your house because you can’t make payments on it and it’s hard to get hired somewhere else because of a mixture of a shifting economy and the residuals of your injury? Probably not catastrophic.
What do you think, dear readers… is this too much of a stretch? Or can we say that the legislature has given us an idea of what to expect in a “catastrophic” injury?