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California Supreme Court Denies Petition for Review—Bad News for Public Safety Officers

The California Supreme Court recently denied a petition to review the case of the County of Alameda v. The Workers Compensation Appeals Board and Bryan Knittel. How does this affect public safety officers? It’s definitely not good news. If you sustain an industrial injury, you will be entitled to one year of full salary continuation as per Labor Code Section 4850, and only one year of temporary disability (TD) payments, which are usually payable for up to 104 weeks (two years).

Since the enactment of the 2004 Workers’ Compensation “reform” law it was accepted that after the expiration of the Labor Code 4850 benefits, an additional two years of TD would be available if the officer was still disabled due to the industrial injury. This was the issue in the Knittel case. 

Bryan Knittel injured his knee while working as an Alameda County Deputy Sheriff. He received 4850 benefits for one year, but his TD benefits ceased after only one year. Knittel felt he was due an additional year of TD payments, and requested a hearing before the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB). The WCAB judge agreed with Knittle, but, subsequently, an Appeals Court did not. The latter cited the meaning of “aggregate disability payments,” and opined that Labor Code Section 4656, which caps the payment of TD payments at 104 weeks, pertains to both the 4850 salary continuation benefits and the TD benefits.

“Now that the California Supreme Court has denied the petition to review the Appeals Court decision, we are stuck with this limiting interpretation of Labor Code Section 4850; it is a bad decision for public safety officers,” says Adam Dombchik, a Workers’ Compensation partner for Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP (GEK). “We thought that the compelling public policy argument to protect those who put their lives in harm’s way every day to ensure our safety would be sufficient for the Court to overturn the appeal, but…. This is the law for now unless there is a legislative change or a different decision in another district that creates a conflict in law and then the California Supreme Court reconsiders the issue.”

GEK will keep you apprised of further developments on this issue and Workers' Compensation issues that affect public safety officers.

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