AOE / COECase BriefApplicant’s Claim for Heart Injury Not Barred by Good Faith Personnel Action Defense

March 10, 20160


(2015) 2015 Cal. Wrk. Comp. P.D. Lexis 511

Applicant alleged injury to his heart as a result of his work as a senior engineer for Southern California Edison. He did not plead any injury to the psyche.

The applicant was evaluated by a cardiology QME who concluded that the applicant suffers from high blood pressure, narrowing of the arteries and “acute coronary syndromes”. He offered the opinion that these injuries occurred during the course of employment (COE). However, whether they arose out of employment (AOE) would depend on the validity of the applicant’s allegations of retaliation, harassment, abusive treatment and stress at work.

The applicant was also evaluated by a psychiatric QME (despite no allegation of injury to the psyche) who determined that the applicant experienced adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood. He determined that these conditions were the result of personnel actions that the applicant perceived as harassment and retaliation. He left it up to the trier of fact to determine if these actions constituted good faith personnel actions. Neither QME report claimed that the heart condition was caused by the psychiatric injury.

Following eight days of trial, the Workers’ Compensation Judge determined that the employment issues that resulted in applicant’s stress constituted lawful, non-discriminatory, good faith personnel actions. Consequently, defendant was not liable for the applicant’s heart injury.

Applicant filed a Petition for Reconsideration which was granted.

The Board noted that the Workers’ Compensation Judge had misapplied Labor Code § 3208.3 which is limited to claims of psychiatric injury. Here, the applicant alleged injury to the heart. There was no claim of injury to the psyche or a claim that a psychiatric injury resulted in physical manifestation of that injury (cf.  County of San Bernardino vs. WCAB (McCoy)). Therefore, the issue of good faith personnel action is not relevant to the issue of injury AOE/COE for this heart claim.

The matter was remanded to the trial level for further development of the record on the level of disability resulting from the heart condition.

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