Carlos Razo claimed that while employed as a driver by Las Posas Country Club during the period May 7, 2011 through May 7, 2012, he sustained a cumulative trauma (CT) injury to his psyche, sleep disorder, head, eyes, back, digestive system, hernia, knee, hands and head. After the employer denied the claim, a dispute arose over the panel QME selection process.
At trial the parties stipulated to the facts of the QME process. In the field of internal medicine, an original panel of QMEs initially issued on October 18, 2012. A replacement panel was ordered on November 30, 2012. The replacement panel issued on January 3, 2013. On January 11, 2013, defendant exercised its right to strike a member of the panel. On January 24, 2013, defendant designated one of the other panel members to be the QME. On January 15, 2013, applicant exercised his right to strike a member of the panel. In the field of orthopedics, an original panel of QMEs initially issued on October 18, 2012. A replacement panel was ordered on November 13, 2012. The replacement panel issued on January 3, 2013. On January 11. 2013, defendant exercised its right to strike a member of the panel. On January 14, 2013, defendant designated one of the other panel members to be the QME. On January 15, 2013, applicant exercised his right to strike a member of the panel. The parties further stipulated that all dates with respect to the issuance of the QME panels reflect the dates that were written on the panel forms sent to the parties, and not the receipt dates.
The dispute was submitted on the issues of whether applicant timely exercised the right to strike a member of the panel pursuant to Labor Code section 4062.2(c), and “whether that code section in its 2012 version or … in its 2013 version is applicable[.]” In the May 28, 2013 Findings and Order, the WCJ found that applicant timely exercised his right to strike members from replacement QME internal medicine and orthopedic panels assigned on January 3, 2013. The WCJ applied former section 4062.2(c). In his Opinion on Decision, the WCJ explained that to make a timely strike, applicant had 10 days after assignment of the QME panel on January 3, 2013 plus “three working days,” i.e., until January 16, 2013. Since applicant made his strike on January 15, 2013, it was timely.
The WCAB agreed with the WCJ that applicant’s strike was timely in the panel decision of Razo v Las Posas Country Club. However, it disagreed that former section 4062.2 applies. Instead,it applied section 4062.2 as amended by SB 863.
SB 863 became effective January 1, 2013. However, section 84 of SB 863 states: “This act shall apply to all pending matters, regardless of date of injury, unless otherwise specified in this act, but shall not be a basis to rescind, alter, amend, or reopen any final award of workers’ compensation benefits.” (Stats. 2012, ch 363, § 84.). Because section 4062.2 governs the panel QME process, it is a procedural statute. Therefore, its application in this case is prospective, not retroactive.
The WCAB also held that pursuant to the discussion of Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) I 013 in Messele v.Pitco Foods, Inc. (2011) 76 Cal.Comp.Cases 956 (Appeals Board en bane) (“Messe/e”), that section 4062.2(c) allows a party ten days from the Administrative Director’s assignment of a QME panel, plus five days for U.S. mail, to strike a name from the QME panel. In Messe/e, the Board held that when the first written AME proposal is ”made” by mail or by any method other than personal service, the period for seeking agreement on an AME under former Labor Code section 4062.2(b) is extended five calendar days if the physical address of the party being served with the first written proposal is within California. Thus it construed the phrase in amended section 4062.Z(c), “assignment of the panel by the Administrative Director,” to mean not only assignment but also service of the names of the panel QMEs on the parties by U.S. mail.
The panel was aware that in Alvarado v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (2007) 72 Cal.Comp.Cases 1142 (writ den.) the Board panel found CCP section 1013 inapplicable to extend the time for a party to strike a physician’s name from a QME panel because the operative trigger for the time period was not service, but assignment of the panel. The Board stated that “the time limits prescribed by Labor Code § 4062.2(c) run from the date of assignment of the three-member panel, not from service of the panel.” (72 Cal.Comp.Cases at p. 1145.). Alvarado is distinguishable because it involved application of former section 4062.2. which gave the parties a right to strike a name from the panel “within three working days of gaining the right to do so[.]” The statute now provides that each party has 10 days from assignment of the panel and, as construed here, an additional five calendar days for service of the assignment by U.S. mail.