The definition of negligence in Washington State is when someone doesn’t exercise ordinary care. What does that mean? In short, it means doing something that a reasonably careful person wouldn’t do. But, it can also mean the failure to do some act that a careful person would do under similar circumstances.
Negligence in personal injury
Workers’ compensation covers cases involving a work injury. The term personal injury is much broader. It also covers injury cases outside the workplace. Outside the workers’ comp ecosystem, a negligent person can be responsible for damages. For example, when a negligent driver injures another person and their property.
Here, the injured party can take the at-fault driver to court. There, they can hold the driver responsible for damages. More specifically, damages can be the actual costs of vehicle damages. On top, damages include all medical bills. However, damages can also be for things like the pain and suffering.
Negligence in a work injury
In Washington State, the Industrial Insurance Act governs workman’s comp claims. Under the law, negligence in workplace injuries is not an issue. In fact, when injuries happen at work, the law applies no matter who’s at fault. Moreover, the same goes for negligence. It doesn’t matter if the work injury happened because of the worker’s negligence. Similarly, the same rule applies if the employer or other workers were negligent. The only exception is when there’s a negligent 3rd party.
Therefore, when the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) calculates the benefits under an L&I claim, then negligence isn’t a factor. The work injury claimant is covered by workers’ compensation and that’s it.
Injury and negligence – fact versus fiction
There are plenty of TV shows and movies about lawsuit and negligence. Hence, people are familiar with suing someone for damages. That’s one reason why many people who call my office after a work injury. Many focus the conversation on negligence. Between us – I’ve heard some truly terrible stories about employers and coworkers. If it wasn’t for workers’ compensation, I’m sure many would fall under negligence.
Here are some common examples:
- Employers not providing workers with proper safety equipment.
- Seriously hurt workers told to go back to work.
- After a serious injury, telling the worker to drive themselves to the hospital.
- Providing employees with old, faulty or broken tools.
- Coworkers engaging in horseplay at work causing injury to others, and
- Employers not taking safety hazard complaints seriously.
Understandably, this can be frustrating to work injury claimants. Workers are upset that there are no damages for negligence. Often, L&I will investigate safety violations and claim suppression. In some cases, L&I issues a fine. However, work injury claimants don’t receive additional compensation or damages for negligence. In fact, when I tell this to people that call me, many hang up in anger.
What’s the takeaway?
Negligence isn’t an issue in workers’ compensation. Therefore, it’s best to not waste your time and energy. Don’t argue about who’s at fault. There are still valuable claim benefits available for you. Most importantly, focus on getting better. Furthermore, make sure you get your benefits. They include:
- Medical treatment;
- Time loss compensation benefits;
- Loss of earning power benefits;
- Vocational services and retraining
- PPD awards;
- L&I pension; and
- Structured settlement or CRSA.
Focus on what matters. Get well. Go back to work if you can. And as always, please be safe out there!