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Worker's loss-of-consortium tort claim cannot proceed: Court

Posted On: Aug. 21, 2012 12:00 AM CST

The wife of a California worker cannot pursue a tort claim against his employer for injuries that prevented him from performing “necessary duties as a husband,” the California Supreme Court said Monday.

O'Neil Watrous worked for Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based LeFiell Manufacturing Co. and was injured while operating a FENN 5f swaging machine, court records show.

California's labor law permits injured workers to sue employers for damages outside of workers compensation in certain instances. One provision, Section 4558, allows employees to sue when their injuries were “proximately caused by the employer's knowing removal of, or knowing failure to install” protective guards on a power-press machine, such as the FENN 5f.

Mr. Watrous and his wife, Nidia Watrous, sued LeFiell for alleged negligence, products liability and for violating Section 4558 of the California labor code. Mrs. Watrous also sued LeFiell for loss of consortium, arguing that her husband's injuries left him unable to manage and care for his family.

Appeals court ruling reversed

California's Court of Appeals ruled last year that Mrs. Watrous' claim should stand because it was connected to Mr. Watrous' claim of LeFiell's alleged Section 4558 violation.

The California Supreme Court unanimously reversed that ruling Monday. In its opinion, the court said Section 4558 is meant to augment California workers comp benefits, not replace them.

In turn, the court said that Mr. Watrous can sue for Section 4558 violations, in addition to seeking workers comp benefits. However, it said exclusive remedy provisions prevent Mrs. Watrous from pursuing a derivative claim outside of workers comp.

Section 4558 allows suits on behalf of injured workers or their dependents if the worker dies. Because Mr. Watrous did not die from his injuries, the high court said workers comp remains the exclusive remedy for Mrs. Watrous.

The case was remanded to the state court of appeals for further consideration.