The Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) finds itself in uncharted territory as workers’ compensation claims related to the novel coronavirus continue to flood in. Unlike claims around more common on-the-job injuries, those stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic pose unique questions and the processing of them may be hampered by safety concerns and the dearth of past claims to draw upon for guidance.
It could take years for some of those questions to be settled by the higher courts, as the recent decision in Gomez v. Department of Labor and Industries shows.
On April 27, the Washington Court of Appeals in Seattle ruled on one such case, ending a four-and-a-half-year-old claim in which an inebriated landscaper rear-ended another car in a company vehicle. The appeals court unanimously upheld a jury’s verdict that the worker, Oscar Gomez, was intoxicated to such an extent that he abandoned his employment and was not eligible for workers’ comp.
While working as a foreman for Rich Landscaping Nursery in late 2015, Gomez consumed alcohol on his lunch break and a few hours later rear-ended another vehicle while driving the nursery’s truck. The route was not approved by the company, according to court documents, and another motorist reported that Gomez was weaving in and out of traffic before the crash.
Gomez’s blood-alcohol level after the accident measured 0.192 and 0.186, according to two samples cited in court documents.
Washington’s L&I department denied Gomez’s initial worker’s comp claim, concluding that he was not in the course of employment at the time of his injury. When the Industrial Insurance Appeals Board denied his petition for review of that ruling, Gomez appealed to the King County Superior Court in Seattle. The jury ruled that Gomez was intoxicated to such an extent that he abandoned his employment and was therefore ineligible for workers’ comp benefits.
The Washington Court of Appeals upheld the jury’s decision.
Emery Reddy represents clients for L&I claims, workers’ comp matters, and employment law cases. Call us. We’re here to help.