Olympia fire chief granted L&I lifeline after relentless legal fight

After nearly a half of a year stuck in legal battles and hospital beds, East Olympia firefighter Chief Warren Peterson has been granted workers’ compensation benefits in what seemed like an open-and-shut case, according to an investigation by KING 5 News. The case, which turned out to be anything but straightforward, highlights the importance of making sure the state conducts a thorough investigation into your claim.

Peterson was critically injured in a work-related motorcycle accident in May and promptly filed a workers’ compensation claim, seeking benefits to cover his expensive air med evacuation, surgery and hospital stay at Haborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) denied Peterson’s claim three times, including on appeal, arguing that he was “not in the course of employment” when an elderly driver with dementia slammed into his motorcycle.

Peterson had volunteered to drive his district’s new brush fire truck from Kennewick, Washington to Olympia, then circle back to the Tri-Cities area to retrieve his motorcycle and return home to the Puget Sound region three days later.

The state concluded that Peterson did not qualify for benefits based on a conversation with the fire department’s finance manager, who was uncertain whether the fire chief’s accident occurred on the clock.

It wasn’t until KING 5 informed L&I of its investigation and asked for comment that the state agency changed its position. Three days after hearing about the impending story, L&I lawyers reversed the decision, granting Peterson his paycheck and benefits until he’s able to return to work. If he isn’t able to return to the job, the compensation will continue for the rest of his life.

The reversal of its decision without litigation was unprecedented, three employment law experts told KING5. But it shows the importance of having strong advocates fighting for your claim.

Emery Reddy helps workers. Call us if you have workers’ comp, injury, or other employment law claim. You won’t get better advice.

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