Contreras Curiel Corporation owns and operates a restaurant, Karina’s Mexican Seafood. The restaurant employed Raeanne Angelina Cruz as a server. After working an evening shift, Cruz was fatally injured in a single-car rollover accident.
Cruz left behind a young son, who filed this lawsuit against Contreras Curiel for wrongful death. He alleged Cruz became grossly intoxicated during her shift at the restaurant, based on its practice of allowing and encouraging servers to drink alcohol with restaurant customers.
Contreras Curiel moved for summary judgment on the grounds that his claims were barred by workers’ compensation exclusivity. The trial court denied the motion.
Contreras Curiel petitioned the Court of Appeal for a writ of mandate directing the trial court to vacate its order denying the motion and enter an order granting it. It relies on the same grounds as in the trial court.
The Court of Appeal granted the petition in the unpublished case of Contreras Curiel Corp. v. Superior Court.
Workers’ compensation exclusivity is founded on a presumed compensation bargain, pursuant to which the employer assumes liability for industrial personal injury or death without regard to fault in exchange for limitations on the amount of that liability. The employee is afforded relatively swift and certain payment of benefits to cure or relieve the effects of industrial injury without having to prove fault but, in exchange, gives up the wider range of damages potentially available in tort.
Exclusivity will not apply where an employer engages in conduct that is outside its proper role as an employer or that has a questionable relationship to the worker’s employment.
Such conduct includes certain intentional torts and criminal acts, as well as causes of action whose motive element violates a fundamental public policy of this state.
The evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to her son shows that Contreras Curiel allowed and encouraged its servers to consume alcohol with customers during their shifts.
While this conduct may have been reckless and appears to violate state alcoholic beverage regulations, it is akin to other conduct that creates or exacerbates workplace hazards.
It is not the type of intentional tort or criminal act that removes an employer’s conduct from the scope of workers’ compensation exclusivity. Nor do the claims incorporate a motive element that violates a fundamental public policy of this state, such as racial or gender discrimination.