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Rojas v. Labor Commission

Court of Appeals of Utah

November 16, 2017

Javier Rojas, Petitioner,
v.
Labor Commission, Ferrari Color, and Workers' Compensation Fund, Respondents.

         Original Proceeding in this Court

          W. Scott Lythgoe and Addison D. Larreau, Attorneys for Petitioner

          Andrea Mitton and Matthew J. Black, Attorneys for Respondents Ferrari Color and Workers' Compensation Fund

          Judge Diana Hagen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and Kate A. Toomey concurred.

          OPINION

          HAGEN, Judge.

         ¶1 Javier Rojas was injured while working as a printing machine operator for Ferrari Color. Rojas seeks judicial review of the Utah Labor Commission's decision that he was not entitled to a 15% increase in disability compensation because his injury did not result from a willful safety violation by his employer. We conclude that Ferrari Color's conduct does not constitute a "willful failure" under the Utah Workers' Compensation Act and therefore decline to disturb the Commission's decision.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         ¶2 As a printing machine operator, Rojas's duties required him to place print media onto the machine's rollers and ensure that the media did not become wrinkled during the printing process. To watch the media as it ran through the printer, Rojas stood on a box and looked through an open center access panel.

         ¶3 In January 2013, Rojas saw the media wrinkling and reached into the printer to flatten it. Before he could remove his left hand, the industrial printer's support bar briefly trapped his hand and a portion of the printer head scraped across it, tearing Rojas's skin and causing his hand to bleed. Rojas reported the injury to the print department manager (the manager), but Rojas declined medical treatment.

         ¶4 The next month, Ferrari Color terminated Rojas's employment for an unrelated timeclock violation. Following his termination, Rojas contacted the Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division (UOSH) and reported that the manager had removed the printer's safety sensor. In response, a UOSH inspector conducted a site inspection in April 2013 and found that a safety sensor had been bypassed, allowing the printer to run with the doors open. Under Utah law, an employer may not lawfully "remove, disable, or bypass safety devices and safeguards." Utah Code Ann. § 34A-2-301(1)(d) (LexisNexis 2015). Consequently, Ferrari Color was cited for a serious violation of safety standards.

         ¶5 Rojas subsequently filed a hearing application with the Commission, requesting workers' compensation benefits along with a 15% increase in disability compensation for a willful safety violation. After a hearing, the administrative law judge (the ALJ) awarded Rojas all of the requested benefits, including the 15% increase.

         ¶6 Ferrari Color and its insurance carrier, Workers' Compensation Fund (collectively, Ferrari Color), appealed the ALJ's order to the Commission. Among other things, Ferrari Color asserted that it did not engage in a willful safety violation that would entitle Rojas to a 15% increase in compensation under Utah Code section 34A-2-301(2). The Commission adopted the ALJ's factual findings but modified the ALJ's decision, setting aside the portion of the order awarding Rojas a 15% increase in disability compensation. Rojas petitions for judicial review of that modification.

         ISSUE AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶7 Rojas contends that the Commission erred when it determined that Ferrari Color's conduct was not willful and thus did not trigger a 15% increase in disability ...


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