Diane Minish sustained serious personal injuries after she fell off a forklift on premises owned by Hanuman Fellowship. Minish initially reported that her injuries occurred while she was working as a volunteer, doing construction work for the Fellowship. Both Minish and the Fellowship reported the injury to the Fellowship’s workers’ compensation carrier and Minish received more than $270,000 in workers’ compensation benefits.
Minish also filed a civil action seeking damages for personal injuries. Minish alleged that she volunteered to assist at the Center and that the defendants acted negligently in requesting her to stand on a raised forklift while it was moving. The Fellowship answered and asserted that workers’ compensation was Minish’s exclusive remedy.
Minish argued the exclusive remedy rule did not apply because the Fellowship failed to comply with the requirements of Labor Code section 3363.6 for extending employment status to its volunteers. She also argued that her injuries did not arise out of and in the course of her employment because she was visiting a friend and was not volunteering at the time of the accident.
The trial court granted the Fellowship summary judgment on its exclusive remedy defense, reasoning that Minish was judicially estopped from denying she was subject to the workers’ compensation remedy.
The court of appeal reversed the summary judgment in a prior appeal in Minish v. Hanuman Fellowship (2013) 214 Cal.App.4th 437, 443 (Minish I). The court held judicial estoppel did not apply because the Fellowship had not shown that the WCAB made any findings in favor of Minish. The court rejected the Fellowship’s arguments based on equitable estoppel, since the Fellowship had not pleaded equitable estoppel as a defense and there were triable issues concerning the elements of the defense.
On remand, the trial court construed Labor Code section 3363.6 and found the Fellowship had complied with its requirements. The court found that based on her prior representations that she was injured while doing volunteer construction work and her acceptance of workers’ compensation benefits, Minish was equitably estopped from asserting in the civil action that her injuries did not arise out of and in the course of her employment. In light of its findings, the trial court found it unnecessary to adjudicate the question of Minish’s volunteer status.
On this her second appeal, Minish challenges the court’s ruling on the equitable estoppel defense, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to satisfy three elements of the defense.
The court of appeal again reversed the trial court in the unpublished case of Minish v. Hanuman Fellowship.
Equitable estoppel provides that Minish may not deny the existence of a state of facts (her injuries arose out of and in the course of her employment) if she intentionally led the Fellowship to believe those facts to be true and to rely upon such belief to its detriment.
For estoppel to apply, the trial court was required to find that Minish was apprised of the facts (that she knew her injuries did not arise out of and in the course of her employment) and that the Fellowship was ignorant of the true state of those facts. Since the knowledge element is missing, there can be no estoppel.