Following the passage of SB 899

Following the passage of SB 899, the Workers’ Compensation reform enacted April 2004, public employers started to deny safety member presumptions afforded police officers, firefighters and other safety personnel for almost seventy years. The spirit and nature in the enactment of the presumptions was to protect safety members and encourage them to participate in inherently dangerous employment.

The most common presumptions for safety members include injuries to Heart, Pneumonia, Hernia, Cancer, Low Back, Tuberculosis, Meningitis, Hepatitis or blood borne infections. The presumptions also extend to injuries such as Leukemia and Skin cancer.

The County and other public entities were denying benefits for these presumptive injuries based upon the newly enacted Labor Code section 4663 by arguing that the safety member’s benefits could be reduced or even eliminated by evidence of a pre-existing disease or condition.

On September 30, 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 1368, an amendment to Labor Code 4663, and eliminated the right of the County and other safety member employers to apportion disability resulting from a presumptive injury toward pre-existing conditions or non industrial factors.

In addition to the attempt to eliminate the presumptions, SB 899 provided for the repeal of the provision allowing certain employees to pre-designate a personal physician. AB 2068 was introduced in an effort to extend the right to pre-designate until December 31, 2009. Governor Schwarzenegger did sign AB 2068. An employee may treat with a personal physician from the date of the injury if specified conditions are met, including a requirement that the physician agrees to be pre-designated.

As a further consequence of SB 899, injured workers’ permanent disability benefits have been drastically reduced. An ongoing study by the Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation concluded that the rating schedule imposed by the Schwarzenegger administration in 2005 cut disability benefits by 54%. In an effort to restore some of these benefits and bring back some fairness to the system, SB 815 was introduced. This measure would have doubled the permanent disability benefits to injured workers. Unfortunately, this Bill was vetoed by the Governor on   September 19, 2006.

Although we have many more battles ahead, regarding the delays in obtaining medical treatment, and the two year cap on temporary disability benefits, we are satisfied that the safety member presumptions have been restored. We are hopeful that the passage of AB 1368 will expedite the delivery of lifesaving benefits to the courageous protectors of the public.