For most cases, Washington State law holds that a worker cannot sue his or her employer — or a co-worker — for a job injury covered by the workers’ compensation (or L&I) system. L&I effectively replaces a worker’s option to sue their boss for negligence. So in general, the system doesn’t care whose fault it is: workers injured on the job cannot file lawsuits. This is why Labor and Industries Attorneys refer to workers compensation as a “no-fault system.”
However, there are important exceptions to this rule: a worker IS eligible to sue his or her employer or co-worker those parties injured the worker intentionally. See Washington State’s legislation and rules under “Action against employer for intentional injury” (RCW 51.24.020). Yet these claims are not as easy or straightforward as they may seem. The legal code here requires that:
1) An employer had certain knowledge that the worker would sustain an injury,
2) The employer willfully disregarded that knowledge by taking no action, and providing no warning, of the hazard.
Third Party Workers’ Compensation Lawyers
Intentional injuries are difficult – but certainly not impossible – to prove in a court of law. Most people who take intentional actions still don’t necessarily intend to cause an injury. For example, an employer may deliberately remove a safety feature or machine guard, but still escape from an intentional injury lawsuit by claiming that he didn’t intend to cause an injury – that the outcome itself was an accident. Yet in other cases a worker might have a much stronger case; for instance, if your boss or co-worker punched you, or pushed you in a way that resulted in a fall injury, they can probably be successfully sued. In all of the cases cited above, the injured party would still have an L&I claim; however, in the case of the push or punch, they would also have an intentional injury claim. A workers compensation lawyer or third party attorney at Emery Reddy can help with these cases.
The advantage of an intentional injury claim is that plaintiff’s automatically have both an L&I claim and a potential intentional injury settlement. Also, the Department of Labor and Industries will not place a lien on awards from an intentional injury claim against one’s employer.
The disadvantage of this type of injury claim is that once a person establishes intentional injury, that defendant could lose insurance coverage. In addition, L&I may place a lien on an intentional injury claim settlement against a co-worker.
WHAT OTHER CASES ALLOW WORKERS TO SUE EMPLOYERS?
There are numerous other non-L&I claims (i.e. those that don’t involve a job injury) that allow individuals to sue their employer. This may involve employment discrimination, sexual harassment, disability discrimination, wrongful termination, and many other actions. An experienced Washington employment attorney can help you evaluate whether you have a case.