In most cases, Washington State law says that a worker cannot sue his or her employer — or co-worker — for a job injury covered by Washington L&I. Let’s break down how the law works and what you can claim.
What Is an L&I Claim?
Here in Washington, when a worker is injured on the job and needs medical attention, they file an L&I claim, which is part of the state’s workers’ compensation program. An L&I claim is like a type of insurance claim that provides a variety benefits including medical care and wage replacement. In more serious injuries, it will provide a settlement or lifetime pension.
The majority of Washington workers are covered by L&I; the rest are covered by self-insured employers. What this means is that you are still entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, but the process is a little different. If your employer is self-insured, we highly recommend you contact an L&I attorney for advice.
Can You Sue L&I?
No, you can’t sue L&I, even if you’re unhappy with how they handle your claim.
L&I replaces a worker’s option to sue their boss for negligence, too. In general, the system doesn’t care whose fault it is: workers injured on the job cannot file lawsuits. This is why L&I attorneys refer to workers’ compensation as a “no-fault system.”
So, what can you do? If L&I denies your claim, your only option is to appeal the decision. There is short timeline to do that, and you’ll want to enlist the help of a skilled L&I attorney to help you navigate that process.
Can You Ever Sue Your Employer?
While you can’t normally sue your employer for a work injury, there is an exception to this rule in Washington State law under “Action against employer for intentional injury” (RCW 51.24.020). These claims are not easy – the legal code here requires that:
- An employer had certain knowledge that the worker would sustain an injury
- The employer willfully disregarded that knowledge by taking no action, and providing no warning, of the hazard.
Basically, you can only sue your employer for a work-related injury if you can prove that your boss knew you would get hurt and chose to do nothing about it.
Can You Be Fired While on L&I?
Unfortunately, yes, you can be fired while you’re on leave for an L&I claim. However, you can’t be fired for opening an L&I claim, or for any other discriminatory reason. Contact a Washington employment attorney immediately if you’ve been fired or mistreated for opening an L&I claim.
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 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 both cases mentioned above, the injured party has an L&I claim; however, in the worker who was assaulted would also have an intentional injury claim. A workers’ compensation lawyer 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.
When Else Can Workers Sue Their 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.