Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation v. WCABAnnotate this Case
In February 2011, the 51-year-old decedent Gregory Thompson was working at High Desert State Prison in Susanville as a guard. An inmate stabbed him eight times in the neck, shoulder, and arm. This resulted in a stipulated award of a 44 percent permanent disability to his neck and psyche. As a result of his injuries, he accepted a medical demotion to an entry-level computer analyst position in December 2012 in the information technology department of the prison’s medical unit, forfeiting his peace officer status. He had a troubled relationship with his supervisor, who told him he was not passing probation. In March 2013, he committed suicide by means of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) issued an opinion after the grant of a motion for reconsideration of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The WCAB opinion upheld the finding of its hearing officer that there was an industrial cause for Thompson's death, and the award of a workers’ compensation death benefit to his widow Svetlana Thompson. The Department sought a writ of review challenging the failure of the WCAB to address its claim that the hearing officer failed to adjudicate the widow’s petition to determine her entitlement to special death benefits under the public employees’ retirement system (PERS). A member of PERS who was a peace officer qualified for a special death benefit paid to a surviving spouse if the death was industrial. A surviving dependent is precluded from seeking the workers’ compensation death benefit in lieu of the PERS special death benefit. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding that the WCAB’s opinion included the necessary finding that the testimonial and medical evidence lead inevitably to the conclusion that decedent’s suicide was the result of injury to his psyche arising from an industrial cause (rejecting any causal effect from posited nonindustrial intervening circumstances), even if this was not in the technical form that the WCAB prescribed for a finding of fact pursuant to Government Code section 21537. As a result of the WCAB’s "insouciant deferral of the computation issue to the PERS Board, its order awarding the full workers’ compensation death benefit to the widow—without crediting the PERS special death benefit against it" was unauthorized under Labor Code section 4707.