Charles Lewis filed a claim for an injury against Horizon Christian Fellowship that occurred on May 11, 2015 and also filed a cumulative trauma, a lower back injury, that he alleged occurred from April 11, 2016 to April 11, 2017.
Horizon was insured by GuideOne Mutual Insurance From March 1, 2015 to June 1, 2017, and was insured by Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company from February 28, 2013 to February 28, 2015. On August 30, 2018 GuideOne filed a Petition for Joinder of Brotherhood as an additional party under Labor Code section 5500.5.
GuideOne and Lewis entered a Joint Compromise and Release which the WCJ approved on September 17, 2018. Brotherhood was joined as a party on October 16, 2018.
On January 18, 2019, GuideOne filed a Declaration of Readiness to Proceed on the issues of “Joinder Order issued 10/16/2018,” and that the complete file had been served on Brotherhood on 11/19/2018.
On January 31, 2019, Brotherhood filed an objection to the Declaration of Readiness to Proceed, stating it had not received the complete file and that it had subpoenaed additional records, which were needed before a hearing takes place on contribution issues.
on October 21, 2019, GuideOne filed another Declaration of Readiness for a Mandatory Settlement Conference (MSC) on the issue of Contribution/Arbitration and the conference was set for December 18, 2019. During the conference, Brotherhood “reserved its defense of untimely filing of the Petition for Contribution” as an issue for the arbitrator.
Brotherhood argued that GuideOne’s claim for contribution was barred because it had not timely submitted a pleading titled “Petition for Contribution” by September 17, 2019, one year after the Compromise and Release was approved. GuideOne argued that its January 18, 2019 Declaration of Readiness was sufficient to initiate contribution proceedings.
The arbitrator issued an order rejecting Brotherhood’s arguments, and noted in his decision that although a better practice is the filing of an actual petition for contribution that clears any confusion, he concluded that the Declaration of Readiness was sufficient to initiate the contribution proceeding.
The WCAB denied reconsideration. The fourth district Court of Appeal affirmed the arbitrator in its minute order of a Summary Denial in the case of Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company v. WCAB, Guideone Mutual Insurance Company et al. Case Number D 077799.
In general the WCAB has inherent power to control its practice and procedure to prevent frustration, abuse, or disregard of its processes.” (Crawford v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (1989) 213 Cal.App.3d 156, 164.) A review of a decision of the WCAB is limited to whether the WCAB acted without or in excess of its powers and whether the order, decision or award was unreasonable, not supported by substantial evidence or procured by fraud. (Lab. Code § 5952.)
Rule 10510 states, “After jurisdiction of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board is invoked pursuant to rule 10450, a request for action by the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, other than a rule 10500 form pleading, shall be made by petition.”
The WCAB has previously concluded a Declaration of Readiness is sufficient under that statutory provision and rule 10510 to initiate proceedings. (See Old Republic Ins. Co. v. Workers’ Comp. Appeals Bd. (Bennett) (2010) 75 Cal.Comp.Cases 168, 169 (Bennett).) As the WCAB found in Bennett, neither section 5500.5, subdivision (e) or rule 10510 specify that a petition is required in this circumstance. Section 5500.5, subdivision (e) does not specify what document must be used to initiate a contribution proceeding and rule 10510 contains an explicit exception for the use of a Declaration of Readiness.