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. Special cases arise with L&I claim for truck drivers. This article tries to help truckers understand some of the issues.
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.