State appeals court reverses judgment in volunteer injury case involving Hanuman Fellowship

By Robert Davis | Mar 25, 2018

SAN JOSE — The California Sixth District Court of Appeal has reversed the judgment of a trial court that Hanuman Fellowship did not owe one of its volunteers more remedies for injuries sustained after she fell off a forklift while doing construction work for the Fellowship. 

Justice Eugene Premo delivered the opinion of the Court on March 6 with Justices Adrienne Grover and Franklin Elia concurring.

The case went to a bench trial first, where the trial court found it unnecessary to adjudicate the question of plaintiff Diane Minish's volunteer status in determining whether or not Hanuman Fellowship owed her more remedies than the $270,000 in workers' compensation she received following her injuries. 

Hanuman Fellowship attempted to place an equitable estoppal against Minish to keep her from asserting in a civil action that her injuries did not arise out of the course of her employment. Equitable estoppal is a defense that bars someone from "taking unfair advantage of another" through inducement, according to

The trial court granted a summary judgment in favor of Hanuman Fellowship, which Minish later appealed.

The Court of Appeals rejected Hanuman Fellowship's arguments on the grounds that "the Fellowship had not pleaded equitable estoppel as a defense and there were triable issues concerning the elements of the defense," according to the decision. 

Instead, the court reversed the summary judgment because "the trial court erred in applying judicial estoppel because the material facts necessary to show that the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) had adopted or accepted as true the position [that the] plaintiff asserted in her WCAB pleadings," according to the appeals court's decision. 

The opinion defines "employee" in broad terms as "every person in the service of an employer under any appointment or contract of hire or apprenticeship, express or implied, oral or written, whether lawfully or unlawfully employed.”

Since Hanuman Fellowship did not deny that Minish was, in fact, an employee performing volunteer services, the court reasoned that Minish was entitled to the same protections under state workers' compensation laws that employees of other businesses are granted. 

The appellate court further ruled that the trial court had no right to place Minish under an equitable estoppage because the state Labor Code "expressly permits an injured worker in that situation to pursue a workers’ compensation action and a civil action at the same time."

For these reasons, the appeals court reversed the trial court's judgment. 

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