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County of Alameda v. the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board and Bryan Knittel

January 30, 2013

COUNTY OF ALAMEDA, PETITIONER,
v.
THE WORKERS' COMPENSATION APPEALS BOARD AND BRYAN KNITTEL, RESPONDENTS.



(WCAB No. ADJ 7275879) Trial Court: Workers' Compensation Appeals Board County of Alameda Workers' Compensation Judge: David D. Bovett

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reardon, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

The question in this workers' compensation matter is whether salary continuation benefits paid to an injured public safety officer count toward a 104-week limit on payments for an injury causing temporary disability. We conclude the answer is "yes."

BACKGROUND

On September 13, 2009, Bryan Knittel injured his knee while working as an Alameda County Deputy Sheriff. Knittel was unable to perform his duties after the injury, and the County of Alameda (County) paid disability benefits from the date of his injury.

Knittel was classified as temporarily disabled for over two years. For the first year Knittel was disabled, the County paid him benefits pursuant to Labor Code*fn1 section 4850. Under that section, public safety officers who are disabled in the course of their duties are entitled to a leave of absence without loss of salary for up to one year. After the first year passed, the County paid Knittel "regular" temporary disability indemnity benefits for another year.

The County then ceased to pay temporary disability indemnity, citing the 104-week limit on aggregate disability payments for an injury causing temporary disability. (§ 4656, subd. (c)(2).)

Knittel disputed the County's interpretation of the law and requested a hearing before the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB). At the hearing, the workers' compensation judge (WCJ) assigned to the matter agreed with Knittel, concluding section 4850 benefits do not "count toward the two-year limitation under Section 4656."

The County filed a petition for reconsideration. The WCAB denied the petition in an order that merely adopted the reasons stated by the WCJ in his report. The County then filed a petition for review in this court. We granted the petition to resolve this question of statutory interpretation that affects local governments and public safety officers.*fn2

DISCUSSION

We are presented with an issue of law subject to de novo review. (Department of Rehabilitation v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (2003) 30 Cal.4th 1281, 1290.) We accord significant respect to the WCAB's interpretation of the workers' compensation law. (Ibid.) We note, however, that neither the parties, amici curiae, nor the WCAB itself have cited a decision from the WCAB that has interpreted the statutory language (§ 4656, subd. (c)(2)) at issue in this appeal.

We must also liberally construe the workers' compensation law "with the purpose of extending their benefits for the protection of persons injured in the course of their employment." (§ 3202.) "However, the policy underlying section 3202 cannot supplant the intent of the Legislature as expressed in a particular statute." (Fuentes v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (1976) 16 Cal.3d 1, 8.)

We begin with a brief overview of the three workers' compensation benefits that will be discussed in this decision. The first is temporary disability indemnity. "Temporary disability indemnity is the basic benefit payable to an injured employee who is temporarily disabled due to industrial injury; it serves as a substitute for wages lost by the employee during the time he or she is actually incapacitated from working." (City of Martinez v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (2000) 85 Cal.App.4th 601, 608.) An injured employee receives temporary disability indemnity until the employee returns to work or is able to work, or when the employee's medical condition becomes permanent and stationary.*fn3 (Ibid.) Temporary disability payments are generally calculated at "two-thirds of the average weekly earnings during the period of such disability." (§ 4653.)

The second benefit to which an injured employee may be entitled is permanent disability indemnity if his or her disability reaches permanent and stationary status. Permanent disability indemnity is paid for any residual impairment of earning capacity or normal use of a body member or function, or for any competitive handicap in the open labor market. (Genlyte Group, LLC v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (2008) 158 Cal.App.4th 705, 719; see ยง 4660.) "An injured employee cannot be temporarily and permanently disabled at the same time; thus, permanent disability ...


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