Armando Tavares had been employed by Luis Scattini & Sons for three to four years before his death. He worked as a tractor driver on a seasonal basis and drove a tractor approximately 10 hours a day. Tavares sometimes worked as many as 12 hours a day, and he was a dedicated and conscientious employee.
In 2011 while he was pressure washing the mud off the tractor and disc one morning while at work he told his foreman that he was having chest pain. He asked to use the restroom before he went to the doctor. He went into the portable toilet, but he did not come out. Co workers called 911 and first responders pronounced his death after resuscitation efforts failed. A pathology report indicated he died as a result of ischemic heart disease due to coronary artery atherosclerosis (heart attack due to hardening and narrowing of arteries which supply the heart muscle).
His widow and dependent children were awarded $320,000 in death benefits after a hearing that determined the death was AOE-COE. The WCJ based the finding on the opinion of two doctors who “agree that Mr. Tavares’[s] heart attack was caused by the physical strain he exerted while using the restroom facilities at work.” Reconsideration was denied, and the award was affirmed by the court of appeal in the unpublished case of Star Insurance Company v WCAB and Maria Rosa Tavares.
Star Insurance asserted that this case presents an opportunity for the court to clarify whether workers’ compensation cases are exempt from the higher evidentiary standards set forth in the federal case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (1993) 509 U.S. 579 (Daubert). Petitioner argues that the Daubert standard should be applied generally to workers’ compensation matters and particularly to the medical evidence in this case. The Daubert standard provides a rule of evidence regarding the admissibility of expert witnesses’ testimony during United States federal legal proceedings. The Daubert standard is now the law in federal court and over half of the states. However the much lower Frye standard remains the law in some jurisdictions including California, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
After noting that the petitioner did not raise this evidentiary issue in its petition for reconsideration, and that Section 5904 provides: “The petitioner for reconsideration shall be deemed to have finally waived all objections, irregularities, and illegalities concerning the matter upon which the reconsideration is sought other than those set forth in the petition for reconsideration.” Accordingly, petitioner may not raise the issue for the first time on in its petition for writ of review. (See Nicky Blair’s Restaurant v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (1980) 109 Cal.App.3d 941, 959.)” The court went on to reject this contention on the merits.
“All hearings and investigations before the appeals board or a workers’ compensation judge are governed by [Division 4 of the Labor Code] and by the rules of practice and procedures adopted by the appeals board.” (§ 5708.) The Board and workers’ compensation judges are not “bound by the common law or statutory rules of evidence and procedure . . . .” (Ibid.) Section 5709 provides: “No informality in any proceeding or in the manner of taking testimony shall invalidate any order, decision, award, or rule made and filed as specified in this division. No order, decision, award, or rule shall be invalidated because of the admission into the record, and use as proof of any fact in dispute, of any evidence not admissible under the common law or statutory rules of evidence and procedure.” It is simply not the province of this court to establish evidentiary rules for workers’ compensation proceedings. (Cf. South Coast Framing, supra, 61 Cal.4th at p. 307.)