Case Study: G&A Secures IDR Victory for SJCERA

Goyette & Associates is pleased to announce that it has prevailed in yet another industrial disability retirement case out of San Joaquin County. 

In this case, the virtually uncontested facts established that the injured correctional officer suffered work-related injuries while performing training drills as a Sheriff’s Correctional Officer for the Department.  Many complications followed that injury and a torturous path of medical interventions ensued.  During all times relevant to his application, the officer suffered from constant pain in his neck, shoulders, and upper back, all as a result of his work-related injury. 

Following his injury, the officer pursued a reasonable, conservative approach to healing.  The “Disability Status” portion of his medical report established that the officer received extensive conservative therapy, including physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic treatment, and an epidural steroid injection.  Although the patient had been deemed a surgical candidate, he declined surgical treatment and elected to continue with conservative treatment.  Notwithstanding his “extensive conservative therapy,” the county’s IME physician recommended the denial of the disability retirement application after an inadequate, cursory review of the medical evidence.

Unfortunately, counties throughout California, whose retirement programs are governed by the County Employee Retirement Law of 1937 (CERL), are taking an increasingly aggressive stance against applications for industrial disability, especially in cases involving peace officers and first responders. If an employee is unable to perform his usual job duties, then the CERL exists to remove and replace the employee. SJCERA had seemingly lost sight of the fact that the system exists primarily for its own benefit.  (See, e.g., Pathe v. City of Bakersfield (1967) 255 Cal. App. 2d 409, 415 [stating that the objective is not only to recognize the public obligation to certain employees who become incapacitated, but to also make certain that these employees will be replaced by more capable employees without undue hardship on the employees removed].)  This is precisely the stated purpose of the CERL.  (Gov. Code, § 31451.) 

In overturning the denial and granting the application, the administrative law judge correctly noted a key aspect of the disability law as it pertains to correctional officers specifically and peace officers generally: “A correctional officer must be able to perform a body drag, to intervene between inmates, and restrain inmates when necessary. The duties require lifting up to 50 pounds frequently.  These are usual duties when an officer “must be capable of and prepared for the worst every day,” and they are duties several doctors have found applicant cannot do.”  In other words, every day a peace officer reports for duty, the officer must be prepared to undertake all of the critical duties identified in the job classification.  This is an aspect of the CERL that courts invariably apply favorably to peace officer disability applications.

Given the virtually uncontroverted evidence of the correctional officer’s legitimate, accepted, compensated, and acknowledged permanent disability—and the overwhelming evidence that he could not perform the usual job duties of the Sheriff’s Correctional Officer, it was just and proper that the SJCERA adopted the administrative law judge’s proposed decision and approved his disability retirement application.

In our experience, many applicants receive an initial denial from the county system and give up on their right to the more advantageous industrial disability retirement.  However, the disability laws are actually designed to favor disabled applicants and the courts construe any ambiguity in the law in favor of injured workers.  It is, therefore, imperative that injured workers obtain expert legal advice before settling for a normal retirement when they have suffered an industrial or “work-related” injury.

Do you think you have an industrial disability retirement case? Or even a case for Disability Leave Review? Contact the industrial disability retirement lawyers at Goyette & Associates at (916) 851-1900 or Consultations are always free.