In Washington State, the work injury claim system is designed to reduce litigation and allow claims to move forward. If you are injured at work, you are supposed to receive sure and certain relief for your injuries. You cannot be accused of negligently causing your own injuries or diseases. Moreover, you cannot sue your employer. At its core, the system was designed to benefit both workers and employers.
The workers compensation claim system
While mutually beneficial, the ultimate goal behind workers’ compensation is worker protection. This reminder is boldly displayed at the Temple of Justice in Olympia, home to the Washington State Supreme Court. There, a plaque reminds us that “risk to life and limb increased enormously for workers after the Industrial Revolution”. Back then, employers “had little, if any, responsibility for the safety of their employees”. In response, Washington State took a bold stand.
In 1911, the Washington State Legislature enacted the “workingmen’s compensation act” to provide benefits to injured or disabled workers. Immediately, this new law was challenged. The Washington State Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality finding that prior remedies were “uncertain, slow, and inadequate”. Here, the Court reaffirmed an important fact:
“[T]he welfare of the state depends on its industries, and even more upon the welfare of its wage workers”.
Protecting people injured at work
With this declaration, the Court put a stake in the ground that must not be removed. As a society, we must protect wage earning workers. We no longer have the “workingmen’s compensation act”. Instead, we have the Industrial Insurance Act. As common practice, almost all workers’ compensation attorneys begin legal briefing and argument with a recitation of the law. Specifically, that the Act is designed to protect and provide benefits for people injured at work. It is mandated that any dispute regarding the intent and purpose of the Act be resolved in favor of providing benefits for injured workers.
I am acutely aware that our current workers’ compensation system acknowledges numerous stakeholders. Each stakeholder plays a role at various points in the workers’ compensation claim administration process. These include work injury victims, employers, retrospective ratings groups, and medical providers. Furthermore, they include vocational providers, vocational retraining facilities, and others. In fact, the list of stakeholders seems to grow and grow.
Workers compensation law and fundamentals
Quite frankly, our society is a stakeholder in this system. There is a difference between a stakeholder and someone protected by the Act. People injured or disabled at work are protected by the Act. Period. As an attorney representing work injury plaintiffs, I will never stop reminding people that this Act was created for people injured at work. It was created to achieve betterment of our entire society. The law that we recite at the beginning of our briefs and legal arguments is not simply boilerplate language.