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City Firefighter Could Not Sue City For Negligence
Matthew Vann, a firefighter with the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) was seriously injured while responding to an emergency. The accident occurred after Louis Yu, a bus driver with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) drove over the fire hose, causing the hose to: become entangled in the bus’s wheels; break off from the fire engine; sweep Vann off his feet and slam his head onto the ground. Vann was left with a traumatic brain injury, and other serious injuries.
The City began processing his workers’ compensation claim. Vann sued the City alleging negligence against the City and Yu. The trial court dismissed Vann’s case because the Workers’ Compensation Act was the exclusive remedy for Vann’s claims against both the City and Yu.
Vann appealed. He argued that because Yu worked for SFMTA, they were not co-employees. Vann also argued that he was not employed by the City and County of San Francisco, but rather, just the SFFD.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court’s decision to dismiss Vann’s claims. If an injury falls within the scope of the Workers Compensation Act, then the Act is the employee’s exclusive remedy. Workers’ compensation liability is “in lieu of any other liability whatsoever”, which makes employers immune from civil damages, if certain conditions are met. A similar provision applies to employees who are acting within the scope of their employment.
Here, Vann admitted that SFFD was part of the City’s executive branch, which meant SFFD was not a separate legal entity. To analyze whether SFMTA was an independent entity, the court looked at several factors, including: whether the entity has a separate governing body; and whether the entity has statutory power to own property, levy taxes, or incur indebtedness in its own name. The City Charter and other municipal codes listed SFMTA as an agency that is part of the City, its Board of Directors was appointed by the City’s Mayor and confirmed by the City’s Board of Supervisors, and there was no declaration that SFMTA was a separate body. The Court rejected Vann’s argument that SFMTA was a separate entity from the City and/or SFFD. The Court dismissed Vann’s separate negligence lawsuit, finding that his exclusive remedy was through workers compensation.
Vann v. City and County of San Francisco, 97 Cal.App.5th 1013 (2023).