In May 2022, the Emery Reddy team helped secure a $500,000 settlement for the family of Sunny Taylor, a longtime police officer with the Everett Police Department who died by suicide in 2020.
In the wake of her tragic passing, her family opened an L&I claim for survivor benefits which started a long and frustrating legal battle for the Taylor family. L&I initially approved the claim but suspended it when attorneys for the City of Everett challenged the claim, tying up much-needed financial support for Sunny’s husband and children.
Unlike other Washington cities, the City of Everett is a self-insured employer, which means that the city takes on more financial liability for workers’ comp claims. Unfortunately, this pushes many self-insured employers to fight back against workplace injury claims to keep their insurance premiums down. As a result, when Jay filed for survivor benefits with L&I based on Sunny’s work-related PTSD, City attorneys fought back.
A lifelong dream, shattered
Sunny Taylor made her childhood dream of becoming a police officer a reality in 2006 when she joined the Everett Police Department. It was there that she met her husband, Jay, and formed lifelong friendships while serving the citizens of Everett, Washington.
A traumatic shooting in 2008 changed everything, when she and other officers responding to a call found themselves staring down the barrel of a shotgun that resulted in the death of the shooter. Soon after the incident, Sunny went into detective work and joined the sex crimes unit.
At the time, Washington law did not allow for PTSD occupational disease claims – meaning Sunny’s work-related trauma was never properly allowed as an L&I claim.
Sadly, years of accumulated stress took their toll on Sunny. In 2019, she took a leave of absence to receive treatment for work-related PTSD. She went back to work, but her superiors felt she needed further psychological evaluation to determine if she was truly ready to return to work.
In May 2020, she was summoned to an HR meeting where she was informed that because of her ongoing mental health concerns, she wasn’t allowed to come back to work until she was deemed fit for duty.
Desperate to get back to the work she loved, Sunny struggled to find a doctor who could help her. Thanks to the pandemic, appointments with mental health professionals were hard to come by, but she eventually found a doctor willing to work with her. All that remained was for her to provide her L&I claim number—which she didn’t have.
The perils of self-insured employers
Sunny’s husband says she was led to believe the City of Everett was filing a claim for her on her behalf. Unfamiliar with L&I and how it worked, they didn’t realize until it was too late that she had to file the claim herself with L&I.
Convinced she would lose her job and never work in law enforcement again, a frightening and devastating future for Sunny, she ended her life.
Why it matters
PTSD, trauma, and work-related mental health issues can be just as devastating for workers as suffering a physical workplace injury. They are sometimes harder to prove to L&I, but they are real and deserve to be treated with the same respect that physical workplace injuries receive.
For first responders, Washington law now allows occupational disease claims to be allowed for PTSD without having a sudden and traumatic incident.
Sunny did all the right things: seeking help, getting treatment, and trying to follow the process. But ultimately, the City failed her, and subsequently, her family when they challenged their survivor benefits L&I claim.
Jay, also a police officer for the Everett Police Department, now faces caring for their children alone. Survivor benefits provided by L&I can make all the difference for families in the aftermath of losing their loved one, so when the process was held up by City attorneys, it was a punch in the gut for the Taylor family. They came to us for help in getting the matter resolved. After months of litigation and negotiation, we were able to negotiate a $500,000 settlement that will provide for the family and help secure the children’s future.
When Sunny’s family hired Emery Reddy, they shared stories of a bright, vibrant person who loved serving the people of her city and worked tirelessly to bring criminals to justice. No one can ever know what Sunny felt in her final moments, but the absence of her light is felt deeply by her loved ones. It was an honor to represent Sunny’s family and help them.