Frequently Asked Questions

When do I need to hire an attorney to represent me on my workers' compensation case?

Worker’s compensation cases are often hotly contested and complex. Time loss is often unpaid, or set too low; medical conditions and bills may be denied; or you may be told to return to a job that you cannot obtain or perform. When in doubt, consult with a lawyer, and the two of you can figure out if you need formal representation or just a bit of advice. Before we take on a client, we go over the case in detail and determine if the client needs our help to maximize his or her benefits. However, if you are getting your time loss, your medical bills are being paid, and you are going to return to work soon, you are probably fine on your own, and a brief conversation with an experienced attorney may be all you need at present.

How is my time loss compensation set?

A workers Washington State Labor and Industries time loss compensation amount is a percentage of all of the workers monthly compensation at the time of the injury. If you do not have a regular monthly salary, then the department will usually average out the workers hours and wages earned over a typical period of time. The department often short-changes works in this event. Gross monthly wages also include the value of some employer-paid benefits, like medical insurance, and bonuses. Once the department establishes a gross monthly wage, the worker receives a percentage of it as time loss. The percentage goes up if the worker has a spouse or dependents.

Can I sue my employer or a coworker for causing my accident?

Generally, no. Before workers compensation plan were adopted in the early 1900s, injured workers had to sue their employers for recovery of bills and lost pay. Many employees lost their cases and recovered nothing, and even those who “won” had to wait years for benefits. The workers gave up their right to sue the employers for negligence in exchange for no-fault recovery for accidents that occurred in the course of employment. Employers, in exchange, received immunity from negligence suits. The only small exception is when the employer intentionally injures the worker, such as a physical assault.

What happens if my employer offers me part-time or temporary light-duty work?

If your employer offers light duty work, your doctor has to approve it.

What is “loss of earning power compensation?”

Following an injury or onset of an occupational disease, if the worker cannot return to his regular job or work hours, but can work fewer hours or do something less physically demanding which pays less, then the worker is entitled to loss of earning power compensation. LOEP pays 80 percent of the difference between the worker’s original earnings and his earnings at the new job. The department often refuses to pay LOEP, making up reasons that are not supported by the law. In one case for a painter we recovered $112,000 in LOEP; in another case for an electrician we recovered $68,000. In both cases, the worker had to reduce his hours due to his injuries. In most cases, LOEP is paid when the worker takes a light-duty job that pays less.

Can I get retraining if my injury is severe?

It depends – on a lot. The Washington workers’ compensation law provides for vocational rehabilitation services if the worker does not have the experience or transferable skills to return to at least minimum wage work following an injury. The rule is simple to state but hard to apply fairly in most cases. Different vocational counselors will come up with different conclusions, even on the same case. Age, education, experience, transferable skills, learning ability, physical and mental abilities, and preexisting conditions all must be taken into account. If an injured worker can perform light or sedentary work generally available, he is not considered disabled. Even if the department is ready to provide vocational services, an employer can stop it by offering a return to work option. Keeping an employer honest in this situation is difficult. Many injured workers consult with attorneys at this stage of a claim, because so much is at stake.

What does “claim closure” mean?

When a worker has reached “maximum medical improvement,” and vocational services (if offered) have ended, the claim is ready to close. Closure is not permanent in most cases, unlike a car accident settlement – under some circumstances, the department will reopen a claim. A claim can be closed in one of three ways: without a permanent partial disability award (PPD); with a PPD award; or with a permanent total disability pension. Any bills or time loss or LOEP benefits unpaid at the time of claim closure are lost forever once the closing becomes final. A closing order becomes final 60 days after it is communicated to the worker, his doctor and the employer, unless someone protests the order with a letter or on the department web site. A phone call does not work to protest an order. Once an order is final, it is a done deal, even if it is terribly wrong.

When is a general contractor or other “third party” liable for my injuries?

Your employer and coworkers are immune from a personal injury suit. Other people and companies are called “third parties,” and if one of them is negligent and causes your injuries, you may potentially bring a claim against them. This situation often comes up when a worker is driving and another driver causes an accident; or when a construction worker is injured on the job due to the negligence of the general contractor or another subcontractor who violates safety regulations.