In Gonzalez v. Seal Methods, Inc. an employee who was injured by a power press sought damages in a civil lawsuit filed against her employer. The California Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District) ruled on January 24, 2014, that the power press exception to the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy rule did not apply to the case and thus the employee’s lawsuit was barred.
The general rule is that workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy for an employee who is injured in the course of his or her employment. However, there are limited statutory exceptions to the rule. Labor Code Section 4558 authorizes an employee to bring a civil action for damages against his or her employer where the employee’s injury is caused by the employer’s removal or failure to install a “point of operation guard” on a power press.
Lucia Gonzalez was severely injured while loading material onto a die in a power press. At the time of the accident safety blocks were not in place. Relying on Section 4558, Gonzalez sued her employer for damages.
The trial court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s action.
The key issue in the case was whether a safety block is a “point of operation guard” within the meaning of Section 4558. In resolving the issue, the Court of Appeal was guided by a California Supreme Court decision which held that the power press exception to the exclusivity rule in Section 4558 must be narrowly construed. The Court of Appeal’s analysis of the language of Section 4558 led the court to conclude that the Legislature intended that a point of operation guard is limited a device that is capable of being permanently attached to the power press.
The Court of Appeal explained, “Although we are sympathetic to Gonzalez, who suffered a horrible injury that might have been prevented had a safety block been used, we are bound by the Supreme Court’s directive to construe the Section 4558 exception to the workers’ compensation exclusive remedy rule narrowly. Read in its entirety, Section 4558 applies when an employer fails to attach or removes only those guards or devices, designed to protect workers that are capable of being permanently installed by the manufacturer or employer. The kind of safety block at issue in this case, which is not attached to the Press and is moved into and out of the point of operation by the worker, is not such a guard or device. Therefore, the trial court properly found that the Section 4558 exception did not apply.”