The California Workers Comp “Bunkhouse Rule” is a legal principle that makes the employer liable for an injury sustained by an employee who lives on the employer’s premises. Under the Bunkhouse Rule, the employee may be compensated even if the injury occurs while technically “off the clock,” as long as it can be shown that there is a connection between the employment and the injury.
Workers Comp Bunkhouse Rule Applied in Court
Labor Code section 3600 provides that an employee’s exclusive remedy against his employer for injuries sustained in the course and scope of employment is through the workers comp system, as opposed to seeking a remedy through a civil suit. Under the Bunkhouse Rule, even if the injury occurs while the employee is “off duty,” if the employee lives on the premises, those injuries would be covered by workers comp if the injury can be shown to be work-related. Consequently, what constitutes work time and non-work time becomes a very murky issue.
Take, for example, the 2019 case of Gonzalez v. Athwal Farms. Gonzalez, in which an agricultural worker had rented a trailer on his employer’s property. One Sunday, Gonzalez had been drinking beer with friends, and decided to go to the store. On the way, he drove across the farm to check several agricultural pumps. While still on the premises, he lost control of the car, and sustained serious injuries as a result of the accident.
Workers Comp Judge Rejects the “Intoxication Defense”
Although the defense provided evidence that Gonzalez had consumed four to eight beers before his injury, that evidence was found to be insufficient to prove that intoxication substantially contributed to the cause of Gonzalez’ injury. In fact, there was evidence that Gonzalez lost control of the vehicle because he was trying to avoid three dogs that ran in front of his truck.
Having discarded intoxication as an affirmative defense, the Workers Comp judge then relied on the Bunkhouse Rule to find that Gonzalez’s injury was industrial in nature.
Two Prongs to Workers Comp Bunkhouse Rule
There are two prongs to the Workers Comp Bunkhouse Rule. The first requires that the injury must have been sustained during the course of employment. The rule does not hang on whether the employee lived on the employer’s premises voluntarily, but rather whether (a) the employment agreement includes the requirement to live on site or (b) the nature of the work makes it necessary.
In concluding that Gonzalez’s injury was industrial, the workers comp judge determined that it was irrelevant that Gonzalez rented the trailer. The agricultural nature of his duties made his live-in presence on the farm a necessity. Additionally, the workers comp judge noted that Gonzalez’ injury occurred while Gonzalez was performing duties (checking agricultural pumps) for the benefit of defendant’s farm, and therefore, the accident was employment-related. In this case, then, both prongs of the Bunkhouse Rule were satisfied. However, in mid-February, a petition for writ of review was filed by the defendant, which is awaiting determination.
Questions Attorneys Ask to Determine Bunkhouse Rule
Even though the Workers Comp “Bunkhouse Rule” may seem outdated, it can play a critical role in workers comp cases where the employee resides on the work premises. Application of the Bunkhouse Rule must be thoroughly analyzed, however, to ensure that both prongs of the Rule are satisfied.
In determining whether or not the Workers Comp Bunkhouse Rule may apply, attorneys will look at many factors. Among other things, they will need to determine whether on-site tenancy is a provision of the employment contract. They will also look at the specific requirements of the job, to see if on-site tenancy is a necessary component. The attorney will also determine if the resident employee is on call during what would normally be considered non-working hours, whether the rent is below market rate and/or taken out of the paycheck.
Long Beach Workers Compensation Attorneys
If you were an employee who was injured while living on your employer’s premises, the Bunkhouse Rule may apply to you – offering you additional remedies or compensation. Our attorneys understand the complexities of the Bunkhouse Rule and follow current cases and appeals. We are available to assist you to recover whatever benefits may be due to you.
Your consultation with our workers’ comp attorneys is 100% confidential, and neither your employer nor your insurance company will be notified that you requested a consultation with us. Our attorneys will help you understand your rights and work tirelessly to ensure that you receive the maximum workers’ comp benefits for which you qualify.
Call our Workers Comp Attorneys for a FREE CONSULTATION: 800-964-8047
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