As many are aware, California Labor Code Section 4558 provides an exception to the exclusive remedy in favor of worker's compensation (i.e. no civil lawsuits for work site injuries) when an employee is injured on the job and the work site accident involves a point of operation guard on a power press. However, the meaning of the term, "point of operation guard" is not defined in the Statute and the term has never been specifically defined in case law.
That void has now been largely been filled by the California Court of Appeal, Second District decision in LeFiell Manufacturing Company v. Superior Court (2014) WL3855046 (“LeFiell”). The LeFiell case concerned a Los Angeles area industrial tools company which operates, among other things, a Fenn 5F swaging machine.1 According to the pleadings and evidence in the LeFiell case, Plaintiff O'Neil Watrous was standing approximately six feet from the Fenn 5F swaging machine when he suffered serious injuries when a piece of metal from the swaging machine hit him in the eye. Although the Plaintiff did not remember the accident, he theorized that a tube he was removing from the swaging machine struck the pressure plate assembly, causing the part to be “violently dislodged and launched into [his] eye and occipital lobe.”
The Plaintiff sued his employer claiming that the door of the swaging machine was missing at the time of the accident and that the door would have prevented the accident from occurring if it had been in place. The Plaintiff further claimed that the power press exception to the workers compensation exclusive remedy applied under Labor Code Section 4558 because, among other things, the door to the swaging machine constituted a point of operation guard.
1 A swaging machine is used to reduce a larger diameter tube to a smaller diameter. The swaging operation uses a process whereby hammers are actuated within the machine and used against dies that change the shape at the end of the tube. The swaging process results in a compression of metal so that the end of a tube is smaller in diameter and thicker and stronger than the rest of the tube
The employer filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on the basis that the exclusive remedy in favor of worker's compensation applied because the accident did not involve a point of operation guard on a power press. The Trial Court denied the employer’s Motion ruling that there was a triable issue of fact as to whether the door to the swaging machine was a point of operation guard for purposes of Labor Code Section 4558.
Following a Petition for Writ of Mandamus, the Court of Appeal reversed. The Court of Appeal ruled that, based on the “plain language” of Labor Code Section 4558, a narrow construction of the term “point of operation guard” on a power press is warranted. The Court of Appeal went on to hold that a point of operation guard on a power press is limited to an apparatus or device that keeps a worker's hands or other body parts outside of the area where the die shapes material by impact or pressure while the worker is operating the power press – and nothing more. As for the facts specific to the LeFiell case, the Court of Appeal ruled that the door on the Fenn 5F swaging machine was not a point of operation guard because the purpose of the door was to keep the dies in place and provide access to the dies, not to keep the employee’s hands or other parts of his body outside the point of operation when the dies shaped the material. The Court of Appeal acknowledged the door to the swaging machine may have protected the injured employee from dangers posed by protruding bolts and clamps on the rotating pressure plate assembly, but the door did not guard the point of operation where the dies shape the material.
The LeFiell case is important in that it narrowly construes the exception to the exclusive workers compensation scheme for power presses and essentially holds that, for the exception to apply, the accident had to have been caused by the lack of a device which is designed as a point of operation guard and not something which might inhibit an accident from occurring.
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