Tara Reck, Managing L&I Attorney at Reck Law PLLC - Workers' Compensation Attorneys

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 44)

Motor vehicle accidents at work: Negligence and Third-Party L&I Claims

Negligence isn’t typically an issue in a workers’ compensation claim. When a work injury happens, or work illness develops over time, it doesn’t matter who’s at fault. In general, except in very rare circumstances, work injury claimants cannot sue their employer. Similarly, if a worker is injured at work or suffers an occupational disease, the worker is covered even if it’s their own fault.

 

Negligence in a workers’ compensation claim

However, sometimes negligence does matter. It matters when a negligent third party causes the workplace injury or disease . Here, a third party is someone other than the employer. It also cannot be an employee of the employer, or the work injury claimant. When a third party causes the injury at work or the industrial disease, they may still be liable for negligence. When this issue arises in an L&I claim or self-insured employer claim, then we call it a “third party claim”.

 

In my experience, most frequent third-party claims involve a motor vehicle accident (or MVA). Workers that drive often in their job are more likely to experience a work-related motor vehicle accident. For example, delivery drivers, truck drivers, bus drivers, and shuttle drivers. I’ve also seen third party claims involving flaggers or construction workers injured by a negligent driver. Third party claims also arise when a defective product causes an injury or disease. For instance, a manufacturer may be liable if a faulty piece of equipment causes the injury or illness. Examples include defective saw blade guards, defective respirators, or defective steel toe boots.

 

Costs in third-party L&I claim

When a negligent third party causes the injury at work, the work injury claimant can take legal action against the negligent party. This may shift some of the workers compensation claim costs onto the responsible third party. This kind of cost shifting helps reduce (or even eliminate) the cost burden on the L&I industrial accident fund. Therefore, the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has a financial interest in the legal action against the third party.

 

Sometimes, work injury claimants are reluctant to pursue the legal action against the third party. Mostly, it’s because of the time and energy spent on additional legal battles in civil court, outside the L&I setting. When this happens, L&I may pursue the action in the worker’s name, because L&I has its own financial interest. However, there are many cases where the work injury claimant takes on the legal fight. In that case, L&I becomes a lien holder in the legal action against the third party. Depending on the severity of the injury and the strength of the negligence case, it’s often a good idea to pursue the additional legal action.

 

Dividing the payout among all parties

Since L&I has financial interest, the parties to the legal action cannot reach a settlement without consulting L&I. Eventually, if the case settles or resolves through litigation, the monetary award divides between several entities. First, litigation costs and attorney fees are paid proportionately by the work injury claimant and L&I. Second, the work injury claimant receives twenty-five percent of the remaining balance (unless they agree to a smaller percentage). Then, the remainder goes to L&I but only to the extent they need to reimburse for payout of benefits.

 

In summary, when a negligent third party causes an injury or disease, they may be liable. Furthermore, the injured worker may bring legal action against the third party. If they do not, L&I can still pursue the legal action (if they choose to do so). Any monetary proceeds of the legal action are divided between attorneys, the injured worker, and L&I. Work injury claimants should get twenty-five percent. Finally, L&I is entitled to reimbursement for the benefits they pay under the workers’ compensation claim.

L&I Claim for Finger and Hand Work Injury

The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) performs research and maintains data about every workers’ compensation claim in Washington State. In fact, its database of L&I claim information contains data from 2007 through 2020. The data captures each workplace accident type, body parts, and the nature of the injury. In addition, they store information about the source of the workplace injury, occupation, frequency, and risk classes. Interestingly, many work accidents involve trauma to the spine and surrounding muscles, bones, ligaments, joints, and tissues. Surprisingly, finger and hand work injuries are even more common than spinal injuries.

 

Hand work injury numbers and statistics

The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics published a fascinating study from 2017. In conclusion, finger and hand work accidents cause roughly 43% of all non-fatal work injuries whereby workers miss workdays. These incidents are most common in construction, woodworking, lumber and logging jobs. They are also very common among medical professionals and workers in mining, manufacturing, caregiving, janitorial jobs, and transportation jobs. However, in my experience, hand and finger injuries can occur in any profession. Even in some of the most sedentary jobs.

 

Workers’ compensation claim for hand or finger workplace injury

Sometimes, finger and hand accidents are simple. For example, small cuts or wounds that heal fast. They can also be far more severe and disabling. For instance, I’ve seen people lose a finger, multiple fingers, or their entire hand. Crushing injuries are also common. A severe crushing work injury can require surgical amputation of the finger or hand. They can also cause conditions like complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), which is extremely painful with unusual symptoms like hair loss and skin changes.

 

Hand and finger workplace injury in certain industries also carries risk of contracting secondary infections. Such infections include Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or staph infection. The risk is particularly high in the medical and caregiving setting. In fact, the risk exists for any job with exposure to unsanitary conditions. Consider janitorial work or working with animals, for example. Needle stick work injury is common in these settings. Needle pricks or needle sticks work accidents carry increased risk of transmitting serious diseases like HIV, Hepatitis and Syphilis.

 

Hand injury in the L&I claim setting

These examples illustrate why there are so many finger and hand injuries at work. When the injury is simple and resolves easily, the L&I claim costs are low. Yet, for more severe accidents with potential secondary conditions or industrial diseases, the costs are much higher. According to L&I, workers under twenty-four years old have the highest risk for finger and hand injury at work.

 

Many workers use their hands and fingers in regular work activities all the time. Consequently, a severe hand injury or hand disease can cause total disability. For younger workers, the inability to use a hand or a finger can permanently damage the future of their work. Therefore, I applaud L&I for continuing its efforts to educate employers and workers about the danger and risk of finger and hand injury on the job.

L&I Claim and Potential Issues for Truck Drivers: The Trucking Exemption

The Industrial Insurance Act governs your workers’ compensation claim in Washington State. You can find this Act in Title 51 of the Revised Code of Washington (or RCW 51 in short). Under RCW 51, the goal is for the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) to provide benefits to work injury claimants and their dependents. Medical and financial benefits are necessary after workers suffer an injury at work or become sick because of their work environment or workplace conditions.

 

Definition of employer and worker in L&I workers’ compensation claim

The law covers work injury and occupational illness that stem from almost any kind of employment in Washington State. In essence, the term “employer” refers to any person, persons (corporate or otherwise), and/or the legal representatives of a deceased person engaged in trade or business in Washington State.  Similarly, virtually every person working for an employer in Washington State is a “worker” under the law. However, despite these very broad definitions of “employer” and “worker”, there are still some exceptions to workplace injury coverage.

 

Washington State workers’ compensation coverage for truckers

Based on these exceptions, disputes can occur over whether there is Washington State coverage, as opposed to some other state or private insurance policy. In my experience, these kinds of disputes happen more frequently in certain professions and industries. On top, they happen when an employer does business in multiple states. Particularly, one industry where Washington State coverage disputes are more common is the Trucking industry.

 

Trucking is a big and important industry in Washington State. For example, companies like Swift Transportation, Reddaway, YRC Transportation, JB Hunt, CR England, and many others provide trucking services. As such, they employ truck driver personnel in Washington State. Yet, these companies also employ truck drivers in other states and internationally. The headquarters for these trucking companies is not in Washington State, even if they employ trucker drivers and other workers here.

 

L&I insurance coverage exemption for truck drivers and truckers

Under RCW 51.12.095, common or contract trucking carriers doing business in Washington State involving interstate and/or foreign commerce must cover their Washington State workers under L&I insurance. However, there is an exemption to this mandate. Back in 1987, the legislature amended the law to allow these kinds of employers to claim an exemption. Here, they are exempted from providing Washington State work injury coverage if they provide workers’ compensation insurance coverage under the laws of another state, which also covers employees in Washington State.

 

Regardless of the exemption, L&I almost always errs on the side of covering Washington State workers. In fact, if an employer thinks they are exempt from Washington State coverage, they can challenge L&I claim allowance and show they have coverage for the employee elsewhere. Recently, I’ve encountered a number of appeals involving this very specific issue. More specifically, it boils down to employer appeal to L&I claim allowance. Unfortunately, people that suffer an injury at work and face employer appeal to try and disallow their claim are often confused and scared.

 

Ensuring work injury insurance coverage for truckers in Washington State

After work injury, workers want to focus on recovery and getting back to work. These kind of employer appeals cause potential delays and stress. They are very frustrating. Nevertheless, the good news is that these disputes are generally easy to resolve. Still, the employer and L&I have attorneys that work on the dispute. Consequently, this leaves work injury claimants feeling that no one out there protects their interest and well-being.

 

Under these circumstances, I always think it’s a good idea for people with an L&I claim to at least consult with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney. At minimum, if you have a workers’ compensation claim, you must understand the process, procedure, and burdens under appeal. On top, you have to know the roles of various entities involved. It will help you reduce stress and decide if hiring an L&I attorney of your own is a good idea.

 

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