Monday, August 25, 2014

Napa Quake A Grim Warning To California Employers

Mother nature's decision to send a 6.1 magnitude earthquake to the Napa Valley region in the middle of the night likely saved lives and employers in the region untold losses on their workers' comp policies. Hundreds of individuals have received medical treatment as a result of the quake, including some for critical injuries, but the majority are believed to have been sustained outside the scope of employment.

Defense attorneys note that it was a lucky break for employers that the quake hit when most businesses were closed. "If an injury happens at work during an earthquake, I think it is compensable," says one Northern California defense attorney.

Damage from the quake, which struck at 3:20 in the morning, is still being evaluated but was extensive enough for Gov. Jerry Brown to issue a declaration of emergency for the region. The quake was the largest to hit Northern California since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. That one struck just at the close of the typical business day but didn't generate any new legal precedence for workers' comp.

As employees return to work, employers need to be aware that there will be increased exposure to potential injuries during clean-up and/or from aftershocks and should take appropriate precautions. State and local agencies, as well as the utility companies, are also facing additional risks as safety officers and repair crews respond to the damage caused by the quake. The scope overall, however, could have been much worse if the timing was different and the quake hit when most workers in the area were on the job.

Scott Hauge
Small Business California
2311 Taraval Street
San Francisco, CA  94116