California employer's failure to provide safe workplace contributed 20% to injury, judge decides
An employer breached its duty to provide a safe workplace when it sent an unsupervised and untrained minor to work without training or instructions, a workers’ compensation administrative law judge said in a recent case.
Modern Charm Boutique – the defendant in the case of Sabo vs. Modern Charm Boutique; State Farm Insurance, administered by Sedgwick CMS – employed a 17-year-old as a sign holder or spinner. In August 2017, the employee was working when he injured his left leg, back, and psyche.
The industrial injury led to the amputation of the employee’s left foot. The parties agreed that the injury caused 41% permanent partial disability and required further medical care.
At the hearing, the employee testified that he was at the place where the accident occurred because the employer instructed him and paid him to stand there and hold a sign. He received injuries within hours of the assignment.
The employee’s civil attorney also testified. He set the value of the employee’s civil case at $10 million. He said that the employer’s failure to provide a safe workplace contributed 20% to 25% to the injury.
Employer breached duty, judge says
In February 2022, the workers’ compensation judge decided that the employer’s negligence contributed 20% to the injury, that the potential value of the civil case was $10 million, and that the employee had a net recovery of around $100,000 from a third-party case.
The judge also made the following findings:
- The employee’s witnesses, including his civil attorney, gave credible testimony
- The employer had a duty to provide a safe workplace
- It breached this duty when it told the employee to stand on a sidewalk near an intersection without training or instructions
- The breach of duty caused damages to the employee
- The testimony of the employee’s civil attorney was more persuasive than the employer’s assessment of future medical costs, which failed to cover all the admitted injury
The employer asked for a reconsideration. It argued that the evidence failed to prove that its negligence contributed to the injury, that the dangers inherent to a sign spinner’s work were common knowledge, and that there was no substantial evidence supporting the assessment of economic and non-economic damages.
A panel of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board of California agreed with the decision of the workers’ compensation judge. The panel said that the judge’s credibility findings deserved great weight. The employer failed to provide substantial evidence that justified rejecting the judge’s findings, the panel added.