The Court of Appeals filed a published opinion on March 6, 2018 in the County of San Diego v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (Pike) holding that under Labor Code section 4656(c)(2) an injured worker is not entitled to either temporary disability benefits or full salary benefits under Labor Code section 4850 more than five years from the date of the injury.
This decision correctly reversed decisions issued by the WCJ and WCAB which held that under Labor Code section 4656(c)(2) an injured employee was entitled to temporary disability benefits and full salary benefits for up to 104 weeks within a five year period and unlimited benefits thereafter.
The facts in this case were not really in dispute. Pike was employed as a Deputy Sheriff for the County of San Diego and sustained an injury on July 31, 2010. This claim was resolved by Stipulations in 2011. On May 26, 2015, he filed a timely Petition to Reopen.
Later he sought salary continuation under Labor Code section 4850 from September 15, 2015 to March 28, 2016 and also TD for an additional period through August 18, 2016. He was paid his benefits through July 31, 2015 and they were terminated due to the five year cutoff based on the date of his injury.
The matter went to a hearing and the Workers’ Compensation Judge awarded additional benefits. The County filed for reconsideration and the WCAB upheld that determination. However, upon further appeal to the Court of Appeals, they reversed this utilizing the appropriate logic in this case.
The legislature specifically limited the applicant’s benefits in their passage of the law indicating that the applicant is only entitled to 104 weeks of benefits within five years at the date of the injury. This law was clear and unequivocal.
The applicant and his amicus in this case argued that the Board had jurisdiction to award benefits beyond the five years of the date of injury. Technically I believe this position to be correct in that the Board did have jurisdiction to award benefits.
However, as the Court of Appeals pointed out, the Board does not have the power to award benefits that are clearly barred by statute. Therefore, although they had jurisdiction, they did not have the power to provide these additional benefits. This power was strictly limited by the legislature and the Court could not overturn that.
Therefore, they indicated that the applicant was not entitled to additional benefits past the five year limitation.
I have seen this on numerous occasions where the WCJ and the WCAB had a tendency to extend benefits and the District Court of Appeals are the ones that actually read and apply the law as it is written.