Justia Public Benefits Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Supreme Court
Baker v. Workers’ Comp. App. Bd.
In this case, the court construed Labor Code section 4659(c), which provided for the annual indexing of two categories of workers' compensation benefits, total permanent disability and life pension payments, to yearly increases in the state's average weekly wage (SAWW), so that lifetime disability payments made to the most seriously injured workers would keep pace with inflation. The indexing procedure was sometimes referred to as an "escalator," or one providing for "cost of living adjustments" (COLA's). At issue was whether the operative language of section 4659(c) required the annual COLA's for total permanent disability and life pension payments to be calculated (1) prospectively from the January 1 following the year in which the worker became "entitled to receive a life pension or total disability indemnity," (when the payments actually commenced); (2) retroactively to January 1 following the year in which the worker sustained the industrial injury; or (3) retroactively to January 2004, in every case involving a qualifying industrial injury, regardless of the date of injury or the date the first benefit payment became due. Applying fundamental rules of statutory construction, the court held that the Legislature intended that COLA's be calculated and applied prospectively commencing on the January 1 following the date on which the injured worker first became entitled to receive, and actually began receiving, such benefits payments, i.e., the permanent and stationary date in the case of total permanent disability benefits, and the date on which partial permanent disability benefits became exhausted in the case of life pension payments.