Jose A. Guzman was operating a compactor when he was injured. He had been employed by Carmel Valley Construction as a laborer for a little less than six months.The compactor, which is used to pack down soil, hit a rock while Guzman was working on a hillside with a 45-degree slope. The compactor rose in the air, caused Guzman to fall backwards, and then fell on top of him.
The WCJ determined that Guzman sustained an injury to his back and psyche arising out of his employment, and that the psychiatric injury was caused by a “sudden and extraordinary employment condition” thus circumventing the Labor Code 3208.3 requirement for six months of employment as a prerequisite for a psychiatric injury..
In reaching this determination, the WCJ referred to the following evidence: Guzman had never been injured by having a compactor fall on him, he had never experienced such an incident before, there was no evidence that this type of injury had occurred in a similar fashion before, Guzman never had any close calls involving an injury when using a compactor, he never had an accident using a compactor before, and he never thought there was any risk of injury while using the compactor.
The WCJ concluded that “having a compactor fall on top of an employee is not something that would reasonably be expected to occur. This type of injury is not a frequent, regular, or routine part of the job. In fact, there is no evidence that having a compactor fall on an employee had ever occurred before. For this reason, it is reasonable to find that this injury was not something that could have been anticipated. This was not the type of injury that would be foreseeable.”
The State Fund petitioned for reconsideration which was denied. The Court of Appeal reversed in the unpublished opinion of State Compensation Insurance Fund v W.C.A.B. and Jose Guzman
The Court noted that “the language and legislative history of section 3208.3 instruct that the Legislature’s public policy goals should be considered when determining whether an award of benefits is warranted. The Legislature made quite clear that it intended to limit claims for psychiatric benefits due to their proliferation and their potential for fraud and abuse. Therefore, any interpretation of the section that would lead to more or broader claims should be examined closely to avoid violating express legislative intent.”
Guzman failed to meet his burden of proving that a “sudden and extraordinary employment condition” caused his injury. Guzman did not provide any evidence establishing that it is “uncommon, unusual, and totally unexpected” for a rock to be in soil, for a compactor to rise when striking a rock, or for an operator to become unbalanced and to fall when the compactor rises on a 45-degree hillside. Indeed, he did not introduce any evidence regarding what regularly or routinely happens if a compactor hits a rock on a slope.