Investigation into worker death reveals no compensation insurance

Employer convicted of numerous offences after employee crushed by bulldozer

Investigation into worker death reveals no compensation insurance

Following an investigation into an employee’s workplace death, a California court has convicted  construction company of failing to pay for workers’ compensation insurance, among other offences.

In P. v. Czirban, the deceased was operating the defendant’s bulldozer to help the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection at a wildfire in Monterey County when he was ejected from the vehicle and was crushed. An investigation showed the defendant did not have workers’ compensation insurance.

Read more: Does having COVID-19 in company's premises constitute loss for insurance purposes?

The trial court convicted the defendant, Ian Czirban, of Czirban Concrete Construction, of procuring or offering a false or forged instrument; tax evasion; failure to collect, account for, or pay taxes; and misdemeanor failure to secure payment of workers’ compensation insurance. The defendant, who received a suspended sentence, was placed on felony probation for three years.

While the defendant’s conviction appeal was pending, the trial court tackled the matter of victim restitution. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board issued an order approving a compromise and release, based on a compromise and release agreement’s terms, and found the settlement reasonable and fair.

As a condition of probation, the trial court ordered the defendant to pay $70,667.56 as victim restitution to the deceased’s partner, who was the mother of their two children. The defendant appealed this order.

The California Court of Appeal for the Sixth District subsequently reversed the trial court’s restitution order and its award of $22,485.13 in interest. The appellate court remanded the matter to the trial court for a recalculation of interest.

According to the appellate court, while it had fundamental jurisdiction over the restitution order, it did not have the authority to review the Appeals Board’s decision to approve the deduction of attorney fees from the settlement.

First, in response to the defendant’s suggestion that the appellate court had unlimited authority to review the Appeals Board’s order because its jurisdiction was codified in the Labor Code and settled in case law, the appellate court determined that the defendant failed to consider the limits provided by sections 5955 and 5901 of the Labor Code.

Section 5901 required a party attempting to challenge the Appeals Board’s final order or decision to first file a petition for reconsideration, which the defendant failed to do. The appellate court said that, while the jurisdictional limits in section 5955 prevented the defendant from challenging the legality of the Appeals Board’s order in the trial court, the defendant could have brought a petition for reconsideration or a petition for writ of review in the Court of Appeal.

Second, the appellate court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court lacked the authority to order restitution for the amount by which the settlement was reduced for the payment of attorney fees.

Under section 1203.1 of the California Penal Code, the trial court had authority over the restitution order, which aimed to compensate the victim of a crime for the reduction in benefits otherwise owed under the workers’ compensation scheme and to achieve the broader goal of rehabilitating the defendant, the appellate court said.

Lastly, the appellate court found that the defendant forfeited his claim that the trial court’s order regarding the payment of attorney fees and costs was unreasonable under the decision in People v. Lent (1975), was excessive, or was unauthorized under section 1202.4 of the Penal Code and under the ruling in People v. Martinez (2017).

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