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In two 1953 decisions, Mercer-Fraser Company v. Industrial Accident Commission and Hawaiian Pineapple Company Ltd v. Industrial Accident Commission, the California Supreme Court considered the proper interpretation of Labor Code section 4553, a provision in the workers’ compensation system that allows for an additional monetary award when an employee is injured because of an employer’s “serious and willful misconduct.” The Court gave a restrictive reading to the Labor Code and annulled decisions of the California Industrial Accident Commission that had found serious and willful misconduct by the respective employers. In doing so, the Court departed from its earlier and more expansive view of serious and willful misconduct. In Mercer-Fraser, as in a number of other dissents, Justice Carter accused his fellow justices of reasoning that amounted to legal “legerdemain.”

Justice Carter’s passionate dissents in Mercer-Fraser and Hawaiian Pineapple charged the majority with “blotting out four decades of progress in the field of social legislation for the benefit of the working men and women of this state,” reverting to “the age-old reactionary concept of property rights above human welfare,” and engaging in “not only a travesty on social justice but an insidious abuse of judicial power.”


Chapter 8 in “The Great Dissents of the 'Lone Dissenter': Justice Jesse W. Carter's Twenty Tumultuous Years on the California Supreme Court,” Oppenheimer, David & Allan Brotsky, eds. (Carolina Academic Press, 2010). Posted with permission from Carolina Academic Press. All rights reserved.