The question in this workers' compensation matter is whether salary continuation benefits paid to an injured public safety officer count toward a 104-week limit on payments for an injury causing temporary disability. We conclude the answer is "yes."
On September 13, 2009, Bryan Knittel injured his knee while working as an Alameda County Deputy Sheriff. Knittel was unable to perform his duties after the injury, and the County of Alameda (County) paid disability benefits from the date of his injury.
Knittel was classified as temporarily disabled for over two years. For the first year Knittel was disabled, the County paid him benefits pursuant to Labor Code
The County then ceased to pay temporary disability indemnity, citing the 104-week limit on aggregate disability payments for an injury causing temporary disability. (§ 4656, subd. (c)(2).)
The County filed a petition for reconsideration. The WCAB denied the petition in an order that merely adopted the reasons stated by the WCJ in his report. The County then filed a petition for review in this court. We granted the petition to resolve this question of statutory interpretation that affects local governments and public safety officers.
We are presented with an issue of law subject to de novo review. (Department of Rehabilitation v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (2003) 30 Cal.4th 1281, 1290 [135 Cal.Rptr.2d 665, 70 P.3d 1076].) We accord significant respect to the WCAB's interpretation of the workers' compensation law. (Ibid.) We note, however, that neither the parties, amici curiae, nor the WCAB itself have cited a decision from the WCAB that has interpreted the statutory language (§ 4656, subd. (c)(2)) at issue in this appeal.
In 2004, as part of a comprehensive reform of the workers' compensation law, the Legislature enacted a 104-week limit on disability payments for an injury causing temporary disability. (See Stats. 2004, ch. 34, § 29, pp. 196-197.) The law currently (and at the time Knittel was injured)
The question here is the meaning of "[a]ggregate disability payments." The Labor Code does not define the phrase. The parties agree the phrase encompasses temporary disability indemnity payments. The County argues the phrase also encompasses other disability payments for injuries causing temporary disability, including the salary continuation benefit payable to public safety officers pursuant to section 4850. The County points out our Supreme Court has unambiguously held: "Payments pursuant to section 4850 are not salary but workmen's compensation benefits." (Boyd v. City of Santa Ana (1971) 6 Cal.3d 393, 397 [99 Cal.Rptr. 38, 491 P.2d 830]; see Kosowski v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (1985) 170 Cal.App.3d 632, 636-637 [216 Cal.Rptr. 280] [rejecting firefighter's claim that § 4850 payments are special benefits which may not be equated with ordinary workers' compensation disability benefits].)
The reasoning employed by the WCJ to reach the conclusion that section 4850 benefits are not included in aggregate disability payments is unconvincing. First, the WCJ concluded that because section 4850 payments are not temporary disability indemnity, they do not count toward the 104-week limit on aggregate disability payments ("Section 4850 benefits are not the same as temporary disability.").
Additionally, the WCJ's decision appears to have relied on WCAB decisions that interpreted the version of the 104-week limit on aggregate disability payments enacted in 2004, and now found in subdivision (c)(1) of section 4656. (See County of Sacramento v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (2007) 72 Cal.Comp.Cases 854; City of Oakland v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (2007) 72 Cal.Comp.Cases 249; see also City and County of San Francisco v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (2007) 72 Cal.Comp.Cases 1013.) The original version provided: "Aggregate disability payments for a single injury occurring on or after the effective date of this subdivision, causing temporary disability shall not extend for more than 104 compensable weeks within a period of two years from the date of commencement of temporary disability payment." (§ 4656, former subd. (c)(1); Stats. 2004, ch. 34, § 29, p. 196, italics added.) This version still applies to injuries occurring on or after April 19, 2004, up to the effective date of the current version of the 104-week limit. (§ 4656, subd. (c)(1).)
The current form of the 104-week limit, subdivision (c)(2) of section 4656, was added by the Legislature in 2007. (Stats. 2007, ch. 595, § 1, p. 5265.) Subdivision (c)(2) differs significantly from subdivision (c)(1). For workers injured on or after January 1, 2008, the 104 weeks does not run from a
Knittel argues the 2007 amendment of section 4656 was not intended to change the WCAB's prior interpretation of the statute. (See Thornton v. Carlson (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 1249, 1256 [6 Cal.Rptr.2d 375] [courts will defer to administrative interpretation of statute where Legislature has acquiesced in interpretation].) Similarly, PORAC argues the amendment was intended to expand the payment of disability benefits, not limit them.
There is no dispute that one purpose of the 2007 legislation was to ameliorate an unintended consequence of the original limit of 104 weeks of payments within two years — it created a disincentive to return to work. (See Sen. Rules Com., Off. of Sen. Floor Analyses, 3d reading analysis of Assem. Bill No. 338 (2007-2008 Reg. Sess.) as amended Sept. 6, 2007, p. 4). But beyond agreeing on that point, the County, Knittel, and PORAC draw different conclusions from the various revisions to the statutory language during the 2007 amendment process and the comments in legislative reports. They have not actually provided this court with any legislative history materials, but more importantly they have not pointed to anything in the legislative history discussing whether section 4850 benefits count toward the 104-week limit, or even more generally discussing the meaning of aggregate disability benefits.
Knittel and PORAC point to the title of section 4656 as being indicative of the meaning of that section. According to Knittel and PORAC, the title is "Maximum period for temporary disability payments." Where Knittel and PORAC found this title, however, is a mystery. They do not identify their source. The title of section 4656 in West's Annotated California Codes is "Maximum aggregate disability payments and periods." (44E West's Ann. Lab. Code (2011 ed.) § 4656, p. 408.) Similarly, the title in Deering's Annotated California Codes is "Aggregate disability payments for single injury causing temporary disability; Number of compensable weeks." (Deering's Ann. Lab. Code (2006 ed.) § 4656, p. 612.) Of course even if Knittel and PORAC had found their title in the annotated codes, it still would not be persuasive. (See In re Gina S. (2005) 133 Cal.App.4th 1074, 1083, fn. 9 [35 Cal.Rptr.3d 277] [unofficial publishers' titles are not significant].)
Finally, both sides in this case have compelling policy arguments. The County and its supporters contend the cost of paying an additional year of temporary disability indemnity to eligible public safety officers could cost public agencies tens of millions of dollars per year. PORAC disputes the County's estimate and notes the Legislature has generally conferred enhanced workers' compensation benefits (e.g., § 4850) on public safety officers for putting themselves in harm's way. PORAC argues limiting benefits to 104 weeks hurts the most severely disabled public safety officers.
It appears the Legislature tried to reach a compromise with subdivision (c)(2) of section 4656 — a year of enhanced benefits for public safety officers under section 4850 followed by a year of temporary disability indemnity. To the extent the law is not working or the compromise is unfair, the parties should bring their concerns to the attention of the Legislature.
The order of the WCAB denying reconsideration is annulled. The matter is remanded to the WCAB for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. The parties shall bear their own costs.
Ruvolo, P. J., and Rivera, J., concurred.