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Mar 2015

Pop Quiz: Which Workers Compensation Law Applies if You are Injured in California but Reside Elsewhere?

California’s workers’ compensation law exercises expansive jurisdiction over employees injured while working, including the exercise of jurisdiction over injuries suffered by such employees while working outside the state. Cal. Lab. Code § 5305. One notable example occurred in Alaska Packers Association v. Industrial Accident Commission of California, 294 U.S. 532, 540-41 (1935), in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that the mere fact an employment contract for work in Alaska was entered into in California permitted California to apply its workers’ compensation laws to a nonresident injured outside California.

But in a place like California with its busy ports, international airports, and many railways, it’s not surprising or even unusual for employees from other states to suffer injuries while temporarily working in California. So, which state’s laws govern the injuries of people residing elsewhere but injured in California? Can California apply its workers’ compensation laws to workers injured in California while temporarily working there?

The case of Federal Insurance Company v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, 221 Cal. App. 4th 1116 (2nd Dist. 2013) shows that even California courts recognize there are limits to applying California’s workers’ compensation laws:

The applicant for workers’ compensation was a professional basketball player who was not employed by a California team, has never resided in California, has played one professional game in California out of 34 games played during the 2003 season, and has suffered no specific injury in California. She seeks a workers’ compensation award in California against her former non-California team and its insurer for a disability based on a cumulative injury.

Ultimately, the court ruled the employee’s “insufficient relationship” to California – i.e., apparently her own tie to California was that she played just one professional game in California out of a 34-game professional basketball career – did not justify applying California’s workers’ compensation laws. 221 Cal. App. 4th at 1121.

So what does all this mean? In a nutshell, each case must be independently analyzed on its own facts..

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