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Grocery store employee death was workers comp exclusive: Court

Whole Foods

The family of a grocery store employee killed after being struck by a vehicle during a work break cannot sue the company for wrongful death because the injury and death were covered under workers compensation, a California appeals court ruled Tuesday.

Timoteo Alejandro Martinez Ildefonso died soon after being struck by a pickup truck while walking in a crosswalk near the Whole Foods market where he worked. He was on a 15-minute work break at the time.

His family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against several parties, including Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Food Markets Inc., the store’s parent company.

A judge ruled the death was employment-related, and the California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board agreed.

The family argued there is an exception to comp exclusivity when employers serve a dual capacity. They argued the company acted as both employer and emergency first aid responder.

The plaintiffs said the fraudulent concealment exception also applied, since employees knew Mr. Ildefonso was injured but didn’t tell him it was covered by comp.

In its ruling, the California Second Appellate District Court of Appeal said the injuries and death were comp exclusive.  

The dual capacity comp exception only applies when work injuries are aggravated by an employer that steps into a non-employer role, such as when a doctor treats a hospital employee’s injuries, the court wrote.

The fraudulent concealment exception also didn’t apply in the case, the court ruled.