LC 4656: 5 YEARS MEANS 5 YEARS
In the case Pike V. County of San Diego, the California Supreme Court recently refused to disturb the 4th District Court of Appeals’ interpretation of what appears to be a very clear statute. Labor Code §4656 states that temporary disability benefits “shall not extend for more than 104 weeks within a period of five years from the date of injury.” The general interpretation of this statute is that the injured employee is entitled to collect a maximum 104 weeks of temporary during the period within 5 years from the date of injury. Therefore, if either 104 weeks of benefit has been paid or 5 years from date of injury has passed, TTD can be appropriately terminated. The Pike case nearly reversed that general interpretation of the rule.
Facts. While employed as a deputy sheriff, Mr. Pike suffered an injury to his right shoulder on July 31, 2010. The parties entered into a stipulation awarding 12% permanent disability in May of 2011. Applicant filed a timely Petition to Reopen on May 26, 2015 contending his shoulder condition had worsened.
Applicant sought salary continuation benefits pursuant to Labor Code section 4850 and temporary disability benefits under Labor Code section 4653. The County of San Diego paid applicant all of the section 4850 and temporary disability benefits through the five year period from the date of injury, to July 31, 2015 and then terminated.
Applicant sought additional temporary disability benefits for the period after July 31, 2015. Defendant contended that LC §4656 limited liability for TTD to 5 years from the date of injury and that, in this case, the payment of TTD through July 31, 2015 exhausted this employee’s entitlement. The matter went to trial.
Trial Decision. The Workers’ Compensation Judge awarded Mr. Pike the additional period of TTD, outside 5 years from the date of injury. The WCJ held that applicant is entitled to receive the full benefits notwithstanding the language that such benefits must be paid “within a period of five years from the date of injury.” The WCJ stated that where the applicant has filed a timely Petition to Reopen and temporary disability benefits had commenced prior to five years from the date of the injury, the WCAB had continuing jurisdiction to award TD benefits beyond five years from that date.
Reconsideration. The Employer appealed by Petition for Reconsideration. The WCAB commissioners upheld the trial judge stating, “The WCJ concluded his exercise of jurisdiction was appropriate to award temporary disability benefits for a period of temporary disability that commenced within five years of the date of applicant’s injury. Where such benefits are initiated within five years of the date of injury and do not exceed the 104 week limitation on receipt of such benefits, the WCJ held that applicant is entitled to receive the full amount of benefits notwithstanding the language that such benefits must be paid “within a period of five years from the date of injury.” Because the statutory language does not provide that no temporary disability benefits may be paid more than five years from the date of injury, the WCJ concluded that the legislature did not intend to prohibit otherwise temporarily disabled injured workers from receiving the full 104 weeks of benefits where such temporary disability occurs within five years from the date of injury.”
Appeal to 4th DCA. The employer appealed the panel decision to the 4th District Court of Appeals. There, the Justices concluded that although the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board had jurisdiction in the case, that did not bestow upon them the ability to award benefits which were specifically excluded by Labor Code §4656. The appellate court pointed out that although the WCAB had the jurisdiction since there was a timely Petition to Reopen, it did not have any power to award benefits which were barred by law. They found that Labor Code. Labor Code §4656 was a clear and substantive law limiting the award of temporary disability benefits.
Therefore, it was ruled that the Board had no power to award benefits in direct contravention of the expressed substantive limitation on the award of temporary disability benefits contained in section 4656(c)(2). In short, the appellate felt the statute was clear and limited TTD to 104 week to be paid within the period of 5 years from the date of injury.
Supreme Court. In June 2018, the California Supreme Court denied review of the matter meaning that the holding of the Court of Appeals stands.