California Supreme Court: Workers' Compensation Preemption of Loss of Consortium Claim

The Workers' Compensation Act preempts most civil lawsuits by injured workers. There are certain exceptions allowing civil lawsuits, such as for emotional distress due to sexual harassment. There are statutory exceptions, too, such as when a co-worker intentionally injures the employee.  One less-known provision, called the "power press" exception permits civil actions in addition to workers' compensation claims. As explained by the Supreme Court:

[Labor Code] Section 4558 authorizes an injured worker to bring a civil action for tort damages against his or her employer where the injuries were “proximately caused by the employer’s knowing removal of, or knowing failure to install, a point of operation guard on a power press,” where the “manufacturer [had] designed, installed, required or otherwise provided by specification for the attachment of the guards and conveyed knowledge of the same to the employer.” (§ 4558, subds. (b) & (c).)

 If an injured worker can sue in court in addition to filing a workers' compensation claim for injuries falling within the "power press" exception, can his spouse sue for loss of consortium, or is that claim barred by the Workers' Compensation Act exclusivity provisions?

The Supreme Court said:

notwithstanding the availability of a civil cause of action for workers who suffer power press injuries, claims arising from the industrial accident that caused those injuries fundamentally remain compensable under the workers’ compensation system. Consequently, under settled principles of workers’ compensation law, the exclusivity rule bars a dependent spouse’s claim for loss of consortium.  

This means that the loss of consortium claim is not actionable, even if the power press exception applies. 

The case is Lifiell Mfg. Co. v. Superior Court and the opinion is here.