One of the most important issues in any legal case is where the burden of proof lies. A common example is what takes place in criminal law, where an accused defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty—thereby laying the burden of proof at the hands of the prosecutor. Burden of proof applies in workers compensation cases too. It is called rebuttable presumption. The issue of rebuttable presumption in workers comp is important enough to have been the subject of recent legislation in California, and it is something every workers comp lawyer must know how to navigate.
How Rebuttable Presumption Works
In a standard workers comp case, rebuttable presumption works against the employee filing the claim. It is presumed, until proven or conceded otherwise, that their injury did not occur while on the job. That presumption, however, is rebuttable, because an experienced workers comp attorney from our office can lay out evidence that shows the injury did, in fact, occur within the course and scope of employment.
There are some cases where rebuttable presumption is not particularly important. A situation where the employee of a plant is injured while working with heavy equipment during normal business hours can quite often be a cut-and-dried case of an injury happening on the job. The rebuttable presumption officially exists, but it isn’t necessarily noteworthy. There are other cases though, where the burden of proof can be more important.
Did a back injury occur on the job or off? It’s possible anything from hauling a heavy box to using an ergonomically poor chair aggravated a back injury. But did the employee have a pre-existing problem? The rebuttable presumption is that the injury occurred away from the job. The same goes for issues ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to other mental illnesses.
Recent Reforms to Rebuttable Presumption in California
Rebuttable presumption can be unfair to the employee, and there are certain cases where that unfairness caused the California state legislature to take action. Our first responders often see terrible things. Whether it’s a police officer at the scene of a violent crime, or a firefighter going into a burning building, the mental trauma can be intense. It can also take time to develop, and proving a connection to the workplace can be a challenge.
Senate Bill 542 (SB542) was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsome in October of 2019, shifting the rebuttable presumption to the employer in the case of first responders with PTSD. It’s still not an automatic that first responders will get workers compensation benefits if they file a claim for post-traumatic stress. But the burden of proof now lies with the workers comp insurance company that might be seeking denial, rather than the employee.
The advent of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020 created a similar dilemma. Senate Bill 1159 (SB1159) was another piece of legislation that lifted the burden of proof off of employees. Those who contracted COVID-19 and were working as first responders and other critical employees, were presumed to have gotten the virus at work. Another shift in rebuttable presumption would occur when businesses of 5 or more people had an outbreak of COVID-19. The employees who got sick would be presumed to be so because of going to work, unless proven otherwise.
How Do You Prove You Were Injured at Work?
Most of us are not first responders, and as we move into the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, we may see fewer cases of SB 1159 being relevant. So, for most people, the question will still remain—how do you prove you were injured at work and overcome the rebuttable presumption?
Every case will be different, but it’s always a good idea to immediately report an injury to a direct supervisor. Even if you just feel a twinge in your back after hauling some boxes to the second floor, let the supervisor know. Back injuries are just one example of the type of problem that might not manifest itself until days later. The sooner a problem has been reported, the more likely our attorneys can establish the connection between the workplace and the injury.
Much like a car accident, taking pictures of an accident scene and getting witnesses to speak on your behalf are always good ideas. And even if medical care doesn’t seem immediately necessary, go to a doctor anyway. The sooner a professional report on your condition is established, the better.
Then call Alvandi Law Group, P.C. We have a deep and talented team of attorneys, along with dedicated staffers, who focus their time exclusively on workers comp cases. We understand how to investigate an injury, and what evidence to seek out that can prove your case and secure the benefits you deserve. Call our office today at (800) 980-6905 or contact us online to set up a consultation.