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Patrick Jamerson filed three applications for inter vivos benefits, two for a continuous trauma with ending dates in 2011 and 2016, and one for a specific injury on May 4, 2016. One of the CT cases was resolved via Stipulations with Request for Award, with the Award issuing September 8, 2014.

He died on September 25, 2018 of suicide. His spouse and children filed an application for death benefits on September 6, 2019. The death benefit application lists all three case numbers. and does not specify the dates of injury for either of the other two case numbers listed. The did not petition to reopen the one case with a Stipulated Award.

The parties proceeded to trial on September 14, 2020. The parties placed in issue whether sections 5406(b) (Proceedings shall not be commenced more than one year after the date of death, nor more than 240 weeks from the date of injury) or 5410 (the five year time limit to petition to reopen a case) barred compensation in all three cases.

The WCJ issued Joint Findings of Fact on October 18, 2020, determining that applicants’ claim for death benefits in Case No. ADJ8129185 (injury through December 1, 2011) was barred under Section 5406(b). But the WCJ further found that defendant failed in its burden of proof to establish that benefits were barred under Section 5406(b) in ADJ11011618 (May 4, 2016 specific injury) and in ADJ11011740 (injury through June 10, 2016). The WCJ further determined section 5410 would not preclude applicant from seeking death benefits.

The employer’s petition for reconsideration was denied in the panel decision of Jamerson v Commercial Metals Co. ADJ11011618; ADJ11011740; ADJ8129185 (March 2022).

Defendant’s contended that the September 6, 2019 application for death benefits was procedurally defective because it listed more than one case number. And applicant’s failure to file three separate applications for death benefits invalidates the filings.

In rejecting this contention, the WCAB Panel noted “that the principles of ‘liberal pleading’ have infused California’s statutory landscape for more than 150 years.”

The Panel went on to discuss statutory provisions enacted in 1872, and proceeded to carefully summarize case law interpreting and implementing the rule that the workers’ compensation system “was intended to afford a simple and nontechnical path to relief.” And that “Informality of pleading in proceedings before the Board is recognized and courts have repeatedly rejected pleading technicalities as grounds for depriving the Board of jurisdiction.”

Moreover the Panel noted that, section 5709 states that “[n]o informality in any proceeding or in the manner of taking testimony shall invalidate any order, decision, award, or rule made and filed as specified in this division.” And “it is the policy of the law to favor, whenever possible, a hearing on the merits.”

This Panel decision is an excellent narration of statutory and case law citations supporting forgiveness of technical errors in pleadings by parties who might seek judicial relief from minor technical errors.