Home > 3212.5, 4663, Apportionment > Of Broken Hearts and Broken Statutory Interpretation

Of Broken Hearts and Broken Statutory Interpretation

A recent Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board opinion, Karges v. Siskiyou County Sheriff, touched on the issue of the law enforcement officer’s presumption regarding heart disease.

The applicant, who worked as a deputy sheriff for over seven years, was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation following a life insurance examination.

Labor Code § 3212.5 allows for law enforcement officers’ heart trouble or pneumonia to be regarded as an industrial injury.  The section provides a presumption of industrial causation, so long as the employee worked for more than five years before the presumption arises.

At trial, the Workers’ Compensation Judge found no injury to the circulatory system, but instead found an injury to the heart.  Defendant petitioned for reconsideration of this finding, arguing the heart disease was congenital.

The WCJ in this case found the issue to turn on the definition of the word “disease,” as found in § 3212.5 (“[s]uch heart trouble … shall in no case be attributed to any disease existing prior to … manifestation.”  Ultimately, the WCJ reasoned that the Labor Code intended to cover, as a “disease,” those conditions with which the applicant was born.

Naturally, your humble author disagrees with this reasoning – Labor Code § 4663 clearly states that “[a]pportionment of permanent disability shall be based on causation.”  In this case, it would appear that the two code sections, to some extent, conflict.  The natural course of action is to interpret them in such a way as to NOT conflict.  This would necessitate interpreting “disease” as to not including any congenital conditions.

Furthermore, Labor Code § 3212.5 was last amended in 1976, whereas Labor Code § 4663 was last amended in 2006.  If, as the WCJ states, the judges are required to apply the “usual rules of statutory interpretation,” then the more recent action of the legislature is the best expression of legislative intent.  Therefore, § 4663, in the event of any conflict, should supersede § 3212.5.

It does not appear that this case is to be appealed, but hopefully the next time this issue comes up the answer will be more favorable to the defense community.

Categories: 3212.5, 4663, Apportionment

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