In June 2016, Kirk Hollingsworth was involved in a fatal accident while working for defendant Heavy Transport, Inc. (HT).
Hollingsworth’s wife and son, plaintiffs Leanne and Mark Hollingsworth, filed a wrongful death complaint in superior court against HT and Bragg Investment Company, Inc.
Plaintiffs alleged that HT lacked the required workers’ compensation insurance at the time of the incident, and therefore plaintiffs were entitled to sue Bragg/HT under Labor Code section 3706, which states, “If any employer fails to secure the payment of compensation, any injured employee or his dependents may bring an action at law against such employer for damages . . . .”
Bragg/HT then filed an application for adjudication of claim with the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. Only one of these tribunals could have exclusive jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ claims, and in a previous court of appeal opinion, Hollingsworth v. Superior Court (2019) 37 Cal.App.5th 927 (Hollingsworth I), the court held that the superior court, which had exercised jurisdiction first, should resolve the questions that would determine which tribunal had exclusive jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ claims.
Following remand, plaintiffs asserted they were entitled to a jury trial on the factual issues that would determine jurisdiction. The superior court denied plaintiffs’ request and held a hearing in which it received evidence and heard testimony regarding HT’s insurance status. The superior court determined that HT was insured by a workers’ compensation policy at the time of Hollingsworth’s death, and therefore the WCAB had exclusive jurisdiction over the matter. Plaintiffs appealed. The court of appeal affirmed the trial court in the published case of Hollingsworth v. Heavy Transport, Inc.
Plaintiffs assert on appeal, that they were entitled to a jury trial on the fact issues that would determine jurisdiction. The appellate court disagreed.
Although a jury may determine questions relevant to workers’ compensation exclusivity when the issue is raised as an affirmative defense to common law claims, jurisdiction under Labor Code section 3706 is an issue of law for the court to decide.
Citing numerous decisions, the court said that it is the general rule that “[i]n a civil case . . . personal and subject matter jurisdiction ordinarily are issues for the court, not the jury.”
Because plaintiffs asserted jurisdiction under Labor Code section 3706, it was appropriate for the court, not a jury, to determine the questions relevant to jurisdiction. Plaintiffs did not have a right to a jury trial on these facts.