Workers’ Compensation Update

In April of 2004 Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law Senate Bill 899. The conservative legislation stripped employees of their ability to freely obtain medical treatment and procure forensic evidence to prove disability claims. The new law also substantially lessened the benefits provided to an injured employee.

SB 899 provided apportionment to pathology in Workers’ Compensation claims by modifying the language of the California Labor Code. With the implementation of the modified Labor Code there existed a conflict between the apportionment sections and the safety member presumptions.

On September 30, 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law AB 1368. The amendments effectuated by the newly enacted AB 1368 will clarify and protect the safety member presumptions afforded police officers, firefighters and other safety personnel by eliminating the conflict that previously existed. AB 1368 limits an employer’s ability to apportion disability on presumptive claims by excluding the presumptions from the apportionment statute. 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 for certain members. This amendment is a large step in the right direction to protecting safety member personnel.

On the same date the governor also signed into law AB 2068, which extends an employees right to pre-designate a physician through December 31, 2009. We have constantly urged all members to pre-designate a treating physician for Workers’ Compensation injuries. This is still an important benefit that should be recognized and taken advantage of.

As a further consequence of SB 899, injured workers’ permanent disability benefits have been drastically reduced. A continuing study by the Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation determined that the rating schedule imposed by the Schwarzenegger administration in 2005 reduced 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.

While progress has definitely been made, due in large part to the efforts of Safety Member associations, there are still vast inequities within the current Workers’ Compensation system.