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Hollingsworth v. Superior Court (Heavy Transport, Inc.)

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Fourth Division

July 24, 2019

LEANNE HOLLINGSWORTH et al., Petitioners,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY et al., Respondents HEAVY TRANSPORT, INC., et al., Real Parties in Interest.

          ORIGINAL PROCEEDINGS in mandate and to review a decision of the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BC690999/ ADJ11235905. Mark C. Kim, Judge. Petition granted.

          Murray & Associates and Murray D. Lawrence; Frances L. Diaz for Petitioners.

          Anne Schmitz, Allison J. Fairchild and Peter Ray for Respondent Workers' Compensation Appeals Board.

          No appearance for Respondent Superior Court of Los Angeles.

          Gray Duffy and John Joseph Duffy for Real Parties in Interest.

          COLLINS, J.

         Introduction

         “Pursuant to constitutional mandate, the Legislature has vested the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) with exclusive jurisdiction over claims for workers' compensation benefits. (Cal. Const., art. XIV, § 4, Lab. Code, § 5300.)” (La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club, Inc. v. Industrial Indemnity Co. (1994) 9 Cal.4th 27, 35.) Thus, in an action involving a worker injured during his or her employment, “the superior court and the WCAB... ‘do not have concurrent jurisdiction over the whole of the controversy, and one of them will be without jurisdiction to grant any relief whatsoever, depending upon whether or not the injuries were... covered by the workmen's compensation laws.'” (Ibid.) “The only point of concurrent jurisdiction of the two tribunals is jurisdiction to determine jurisdiction; jurisdiction once determined is exclusive, not concurrent.” (Ibid.)

         This case presents the question of which tribunal-the superior court or the WCAB-had jurisdiction to determine which tribunal had exclusive jurisdiction. The Supreme Court has made clear that when a civil action and a workers' compensation proceeding are concurrently pending, “the tribunal first assuming jurisdiction” should determine exclusive jurisdiction. (Scott v. Industrial Acc. Commission (1956) 46 Cal.2d 76, 81 (Scott).) Here, the superior court exercised jurisdiction first, so the court had jurisdiction to decide which tribunal has exclusive jurisdiction. The court erred by staying the civil case to allow the WCAB to decide that issue, and the WCAB erred by proceeding without deference to the superior court. We therefore grant plaintiffs' petition.

         Factual and procedural background

         Workers' compensation exclusivity

         “As a general rule, an employee who sustains an industrial injury ‘arising out of and in the course of the employment' is limited to recovery under the workers' compensation system.” (Torres v. Parkhouse Tire Service, Inc. (2001) 26 Cal.4th 995, 1001.) “The underlying premise behind this statutorily created system of workers' compensation” is a bargain in which “‘the employer assumes liability for industrial personal injury or death without regard to fault in exchange for limitations on the amount of that liability. The employee is afforded relatively swift and certain payment of benefits to cure or relieve the effects of industrial injury without having to prove fault but, in exchange, gives up the wider range of damages potentially available in tort.'” (Charles J. Vacanti, M.D., Inc. v. State Comp. Ins. Fund (2001) 24 Cal.4th 800, 811, citing Shoemaker v. Myers (1990) 52 Cal.3d 1, 16.) For purposes of this matter, it is not disputed that the fatal injury at issue occurred in the course of the decedent's employment.

         However, “[t]he price that must be paid by each employer for immunity from tort liability is the purchase of a workers' compensation policy.” (Hernandez v. Chavez Roofing, Inc. (1991) 235 Cal.App.3d 1092, 1095.) All employers are required to “secure the payment of compensation by obtaining insurance from an authorized carrier or by securing a certificate of consent from the Director of Industrial Relations to become a self-insurer.” (Minish v. Hanuman Fellowship (2013) 214 Cal.App.4th 437, 461; Lab. Code, § 3700.) “If any employer fails to secure the payment of compensation, any injured employee or his dependents may bring an action at law against such employer for damages, as if this division did not apply.” (Lab. Code, § ...


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