Labor Code section 4850 provides public safety officers, who become disabled while performing their duties, to a one-year leave of absence without loss of salary in lieu of temporary disability payments for that year. After the injured officer has received the one year of 4850 pay, the officer is then entitled to temporary disability at the state rate.
Up until recently, the WCAB in City of Oakland v. WCAB and City of Long Beach v. WCAB held the two-year limit on temporary disability did not apply to 4850 benefits. Law Enforcement Officers would be entitled to one year of 4850 and then two years of temporary disability paid at the state rate.
However, the Legislature once again amended Labor Code section 4656 by stating "aggregate disability payments for a single injury occurring on or after January 1, 2008, causing temporary disability shall not extend more that 104 compensable weeks within a period of five years from the date of injury." The intent was to provide a period of five years to collect the 104 weeks of temporary disability. However, with this change there arose a new challenge to the prior case law holding that 4950 was excluded from the 104-week cap.
In County of Alameda v. WCAB (2013), a deputy sheriff was injured on duty and received the one-year of 4850 benefits and an additional year of temporary disability benefits. At the end of the two years, the County stopped paying the officer, contending that 4850 benefits applied against the two-year cap in the amended provisions of Labor Code section. 4656. The County of Alameda appealed the WCAB's decision to the Court of Appeals, First District.
In a published opinion, the Court of Appeals actually reversed the WCAB, holding 4850 benefits paid to an injured officer count towards the 104-week limit on temporary disability benefits. The Court of Appeals reasoned the plain language of the amended section 4656 expressed a clear Legislative intent that "aggregate disability payments" included 4850 benefits. Absent a specific exclusion, the Court held 4850 benefits are subject to the two-year limit on temporary disability benefits. The decision was certified for publication and remains the law, unless the case is appealed to the California Supreme Court.
In effect, the Court of Appeals took away an extra year of temporary disability benefits that public safety officers previously enjoyed. An injured officer is now entitled to one year of 4850 benefits and only a single year of temporary disability for a total of two years.
With this change in law, it also becomes critical to resolve any delays in medical treatment in that two-year window from the date of injury. The longer the officer's condition remains at temporary total disability, the closer the officer approaches the fiscal cliff of being off work without any temporary disability benefits. That officer must then rely on permanent disability advances, if any are payable, which pay at a fraction of the temporary disability rate. One way to avoid this fiscal cliff is to ensure that the officer has available the CLEA Long Term Disability Plan to deal with the loss of benefits at the end of the two years.
Excerpt of an article by John A. Ferrone, a partner in the law firm of Adams, Ferrone & Ferrone.