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Can I Be Sanctioned for Filing a Workers’ Compensation Case?

SactionsA recent California Court of Appeals case is destined to strike fear into the hearts of injured workers and attorneys representing them. In the May 28, 2015 decision entered in Mario Lopez v. The Fishel Company, the Court of Appeals not only dismissed the injured worker’s (Mr. Lopez) claim for damages against his employer but also granted his employer’s motion for sanctions. This requires Mr. Lopez and/or his attorney to pay the employer a sum to be determined later for filing what the court considered a “frivolous appeal.”

How Did Mr. Lopez get in This Situation?

Mr. Lopez’s troubles began when he was injured while riding in a commercial truck driven by a co-worker. The truck was hit by a car being driven by another person. Mr. Lopez filed a complaint against his employer based on negligence; his employer moved to have the case dismissed based on the workers’ compensation statute. The court did so, dismissing Mr. Lopez’s complaint but allowing him to amend his complaint if he could show his employer did not have workers’ compensation insurance. A second, amended complaint filed on behalf of Mr. Lopez by an attorney was also dismissed. Mr. Lopez thereafter appealed.

The Court of Appeals found that Mr. Lopez’s admissions made in the two complaints he filed – specifically that he was an employee of The Fishel Company and that he was injured in the course of his employment – made it clear that he was not entitled to sue his employer. Because he nevertheless pursued an appeal, the Court of Appeals found this was a rare case in which sanctions were appropriate.

What Could Mr. Lopez Have Done Differently?

As serious and tragic this resulting decision is from Mr. Lopez’s point of view, it did not have to end this way. Experienced workplace injury attorneys could have pursued alternative routes to get Mr. Lopez compensation, including:

  • Bringing a suit against the driver that hit the truck: Although workers’ compensation statutes prevent an injured worker from filing suit against his or her employer, they do not prevent the injured worker from suing a third party that is responsible for his or her injuries. Although the employer’s insurer may be reimbursed if you recover any damages from a third-party lawsuit, Mr. Lopez would have avoided having sanctions ordered against him if he had sued the proper party; and/or
  • Documenting how the employer is able to be sued: There are exceptions to the workers’ compensation statute that allow the employer to be sued directly in certain circumstances. The injured worker is responsible for producing evidence that demonstrates one or more exceptions to the statute apply.

When workers' compensation benefits are not available to you after a workplace injury, the skilled San Jose workplace injury attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. can help you determine the appropriateness of a lawsuit against your employer. We can also investigate and advise you if there are one or more third-parties that may be held responsible for your workplace accident. Contact us to discuss your San Jose workplace injury today.

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