If you are injured while on the job you have a workers compensation claim often referred to as a Labor and Industries (L&I) claim in the state of Washington. Your medical bills are covered by L&I, and there are also benefits for lost earnings, and compensation through the workers compensation system if you are left disabled or even unable to work. Even if your employer was “at fault” for your injury, your remedy is through the L&I system, you can’t file a lawsuit against your employer for the injury. If your at fault for your own injury while working you are still covered by L&I. There are often disputes related to L&I claims ranging from whether an injury was on the job or not, to disputes about the nature and extent of injury or disability and what medical care is necessary. Workers compensation or L&I attorneys represent injured workers who are in these disputes and also work hard to insure their clients are not short changed or treated unfairly within the workers compensation system.
There are scenarios where an injured worker will have a claim that is covered by L&I but you will also have a separate claim against a “3rd party.” This simply means that the injured worker receives L&I benefits but they also have the right to pursue a claim against an outside party. For example, we represented a firefighter who was a passenger in a fire truck responding to call. While the fire truck was driving to the scene of the call, another driver out on the streets was completely ignorant to the fire truck’s sirens and horns, proceeded to blow a stop sign, and T-boned the firetruck. As a result our client, the firefighter, was injured and required surgery.
Because this incident was on the job the firefighter’s claim was automatically subject to the L&I system. All medical treatment, payment of medical bills, and payment for missed time was governed by L&I. However, the firefighter had the independent right to make a claim against the car that ran the stop sign, just like anybody else who is injured in an auto accident. The firefighter’s claim against the at fault car that ran the stop sign is the “3rd party” claim.
When an injured worker recovers money from a 3rd party and L&I has paid medical bills and wage loss, inevitably L&I has legal rights to reimbursement. They automatically have a lien against the settlement. However, this is an area where thorough understanding of the law can make a tremendous difference in the amount of money the injured worker actually retains. There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into negotiating and ultimately determining what part of the 3rd party recovery actually gets paid back to L&I.
In the case of our firefighter client, the at-fault car that ran the stop sign had no insurance and no assets. We were able to pursue the claim against our client’s own UIM policy. Because the UIM policy was paid by the firefighter he did not have to reimburse L&I. RCW 51.24.030 see also Frost v. L&I. [We highly recommend that anyone who has a job that requires a lot of driving to have a UIM policy, and make sure your employment activities are not excluded. This would include all emergency responders; delivery drivers; anyone who might get in an auto accident while working].
If you are injured on the job, we are happy to consult with you free of charge. It may be that your claims are limited to the realm of workers compensation. However, you may also have a 3rd party claim which will allow you to recover more money for damages than you could through L&I alone.