Jim Guerrero applied for workers’ compensation benefits after he was injured in the course of his employment as a construction laborer. He received temporary disability benefits and his entitlement to permanent disability benefits was ultimately settled in December 2014 by compromise and release.
Guerrero also applied for benefits from the Subsequent Injuries Benefits Trust Fund, asserting that a prior medical condition when combined with the work injury left him sufficiently disabled to meet the eligibility requirements for SIBTF payments. The SIBTF contested his entitlement to benefits. In October 2015 a WCALJ ordered the SIBTF to pay benefits, finding that Guerrero’s preexisting condition combined with the subsequent injury left him totally and permanently disabled.
The WCALJ fixed the beginning date for SIBTF payments as June 16, 2006, the day after temporary disability payments ceased. The SIBTF contended its obligation should not begin until January 26, 2011 (the date when Guerrero’s injuries were deemed permanent and stationary), but the administrative law judge rejected this argument and ordered that SIBTF benefits commence at the same time the law required the employer to begin making permanent disability payments.
The SIBTF petitioned for reconsideration of the award, and the Appeals Board denied the petition. The Court of Appeal found that the start date for SIBTF benefits in this case was correctly determined and affirmed the award in the published case of Baker v WCAB and Jim Guerrero.
The SIBTF pays a portion of the permanent disability compensation owed to a qualifying worker. A qualifying worker is one who is already suffering from a permanent partial disability and then incurs a further work-related injury that, combined with the existing disability, leaves the worker with a permanent disability rating of at least 70 percent. Benefits also apply in cases where the previous disability affected a hand, arm, foot, leg or eye, with the new injury affecting the opposite corresponding member; or, regardless of the nature of either injury, the subsequent injury alone equates to a permanent disability rating of at least 35 percent.
A worker who meets these criteria is eligible to receive benefits from the SIBTF. In such a case, the employer pays only that portion of the permanent disability compensation determined to be directly attributable to the last on-the-job injury and the SIBTF pays the remainder. The compensation paid by the SIBTF is separate from and in addition to the compensation paid by the employer.
The SIBTF argues that the WCAB erroneously relied on LC 4650(b) to determine that SIBTF payments in this case should begin once the employer’s obligation to pay temporary disability benefits ends. It asserts that the plain language of 4650 indicates it applies only to benefits payable by employers, and the SIBTF is not an employer. According to the SIBTF, it is section 4751 that controls when SIBTF benefits must commence – when the applicant’s injury is declared P&S.
“Giving the plain language of section 4751 a commons sense meaning, we read the Legislature’s mandate that SIBTF benefits (when an employee qualifies for them) “shall be paid in addition to” permanent disability benefits to mean that the SIBTF is required to commence payments at the same time as an employer’s obligation to make permanent disability payments begins.”