Labor & Industries Taps Drivers and Employers in Push for Workers’ Comp

A stalled Bill intended to give workers’ compensation benefits to Washington State taxi and limousine drivers may receive new life.  The Department of Labor and Industries was tapped early this week to contact employers and drivers in an effort to move the Bill forward.

The recent forced closure of a North Carolina bus company with an extensive history of safety violations has brought greater scrutiny to how professional drivers are treated by the agencies that employ them.  Although the driver involved in the latest deadly accident was cited for reckless driving, there is some evidence that Sky Express, the company that employed the driver, had a history forcing possibly fatigued drivers to work multiple shifts with inadequate rest.

What this incident highlights is that bus, taxi, and limousine drivers as well as other “for-hire” vehicle drivers are not merely unskilled workers, but professionals who literally hold the lives of their passengers in their hands, and that their ability to do so is directly linked to the kinds of workplace protections they may receive.  As such, there have been recent pushes by Labor advocates and Labor & Industries experts to expand access to health care and workers’ compensation benefits for these workers.

In February, Seattlepi.com reported that a Senate Bill requiring drivers to be covered by workers’ compensation benefits stalled in the legislature.  Scott Gutierrez reports, “Senate Bill 5785, one of two bills on the topic, would define taxis, limousines and other for-hire vehicles as ‘urban transportation businesses’ and require their owners to pay industrial insurance premiums.  The goal is to ensure that drivers are covered for work-related injuries beyond what’s covered by auto insurance, which is mandatory in the taxi business.”

The Bill’s sponsor, Senator Adam Kline, D-Seattle, is quoted as arguing “They get robbed and beat up, and because they spend so much time on the road, they’re exposed to more collisions.  That’s an occupational hazard.”

There has also been confusion over who is liable when a taxi or town car driver is injured in the workplace.  Gutierrez notes, “In the past, health care providers mistakenly filed medical claims with L&I involving cab drivers who said they were injured on the job, even though no one was paying into the system for them.  Then, L&I had to sort out whether the driver was an employee and who was responsible for the premiums.”  In fact, there was even a “recent lawsuit in Tacoma between L&I and a taxi association over a $400,000 medical claim involving a driver who was shot during a robbery.”

The Tacoma driver is only one of many Washington State drivers who have been the victim of violence in recent years.  Drivers are put in very vulnerable positions in relation to their passengers and often have little recourse when they are attacked, robbed, or even killed.  These statistics reveal that creating access to benefits could increase safety for passengers and drivers alike

The Department of Labor and Industries is well aware of these dangers and now seems prepared to help the legislature close this important gap in coverage for this very vulnerable class of workers.  The Preproposal Statement of Inquiry filed by L&I this week will seek advice from both employers and individuals from the for-hire vehicle industry as they move this initiative forward.

Workers injured on the job should first seek medical help, but then consult with an expert Washington workers compensation lawyer about their claim.  The expert workers’ compensation attorneys at Emery Reddy are standing by to assist injured workers with their claims.

Emery Reddy