Valley Fever Plaintiff Fails To Establish Comp Insurance Co.’s Extreme or Outrageous Conduct

Where a Mississippi resident contracted coccidiodomycosis (“Valley Fever”) at a job site in California and had received some indemnity and medical benefits under California’s Workers’ Compensation Act (“the Act”), he could not maintain a civil action for the insurance company’s alleged outrageous and extreme conduct in the form of statements made to him by one of the insurance company’s team leaders [see Powell v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8176 (S.D. Miss. Jan. 25, 2016)]. Plaintiff alleged that the leader asked him why African-Americans were more susceptible than others to Valley Fever, and also told the plaintiff that before he could approve payments to the plaintiff, he “had to understand more about Valley Fever.”

The federal district court acknowledged that under Unruh v. Truck Ins. Exch., 7 Cal. 3d 616, 102 Cal. Rptr. 815, 498 P.2d 1063 (1972) [see Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law, §§ 104.05[2], 114.02], the California Supreme Court recognized an exception to the exclusive jurisdiction established the Act where an employer’s insurance carrier intentionally engages in outrageous and extreme conduct which cannot be justified by the needs of normal investigation or defense of claims. The court noted that in Unruh, the plaintiff alleged that the insurer’s investigator had made romantic overtures to her for the sole purpose of arranging dates during which his colleague could surreptitiously film the plaintiff performing acts beyond her normal physical capabilities. The court added that in the instant case, however, plaintiff had alleged no such extreme or outrageous conduct. Plaintiff’s claims amounted to no more than wrongful refusal to pay claims, which California law did not recognize as an exception to the exclusive jurisdiction statute.

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