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Meat Grinder Injuries Do Not Fall Under the Power Press Exception

November 25th, 2013

Workers’ compensation is weird – I know.  It’s full of exceptions and loopholes and odd twists and turns.

For example, have you heard of the power press exception?  A power press, as defined by Labor Code section 4558(a)(4), is a material-forming machine that utilizes a die which is designed for use in the manufacture of other products.  If the employer knowingly removed or failed to install a point of operation guard on a power press, the injured worker (or his relatives) can seek damages at law (tort law), and not just in workers’ compensation.

So, in plain Monday-pre-coffee speak, what is a power press?  In Ceja v. J.R. Wood, Inc., the Court of Appeal relied on the Administrative Code (title 8, section 4188), noting that “die” was defined as “[t]he tooling used in a press for cutting or forming material.  An upper and a lower die make a complete set.”  In Ceja, a power saw was expressly excluded from the definition, as were all small hand tools.  Think Looney Tunes 

Recently, an unpublished Court of Appeal decision reviewed this law as well.  In Jose Herrera v. Unistar Food Processing, Inc., a worker sustained very serious injury after his gloved fist became stuck to a piece of frozen pork he was putting through a meat grinder, pulling his arm in and causing an amputation.

Mr. Herrera sought damages under tort law under the Power Press exception to the workers’ compensation system.  The employer moved for summary judgment, arguing that the meat grinder did not meet the requirements set out in Labor Code section 4558, and so Mr. Herrera was confined to the workers’ compensation system.  The trial Court agreed and granted the motion.

On appeal, Mr. Herrera argued that the meat grinder was, in fact, a power press because the blades of the meat grinder formed a lower and upper part, and formed the meat product (from frozen cubes into ground meat) to make other products.   The Court of Appeal disagreed – whatever the inner workings of the meat grinder, it failed to meet the definition of the Labor Code, as it was not manufacturing other products.

“What goes into the meat grinder comes out of the grinder, albeit in smaller pieces.  Cubed pork goes in, and ground pork comes out.  Thus, a meat grinder does not manufacture a different product.  It merely minces the meat.”

Now, bear in mind, dear readers, your humble blogger has nothing but sympathy for Mr. Herrera.  This poor gentleman has gone through an intense trauma and will likely be deprived of his livelihood for some time to come.  That being said, the purpose of the Workers’ Compensation system is to provide necessary benefits at a quick pace, although with a lower total pay-out in the end.

Frankly, the power press exception is really just a very specific type of serious and willful claim – with the employer knowingly and willfully exposing its employees to very serious harm by failing to install or keep on manufacturer provided safety guards.  It appears that this was simply an industrial accident.

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