Boeing Co. v. Dep’t of Labor & Indus., a case from the Supreme Court of Washington, involved claimant who filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits after she suffered chemical exposure during her time working for employer.
Chemical exposure aggravated her pre-existing asthma condition. As result of this chemical exposure, claimant requires ongoing medical treatment. After submitting her claim, the workers’ compensation department made a determination she was permanently and totally disabled. In addition to her asthma and asthma complications due to chemical exposure, claimant also had a right knee injury, which was a determined to be a contributing factor to her permanent total disability rating. She was awarded a pension based upon her disability rating.
Employer applied for what is known as second injury relief, and workers’ compensation department ordered a portion of her benefits consistent with the percentage of disability rating associated with the knee injury to be paid from a second injury fund. In other words, employer was not responsible for paying for injuries not related to chemical exposure, but claimant would still get the money to which she was legally entitled. Department also determined claimant was entitled to post-pension compensation for her ongoing medical treatment for her chemical exposure-related asthma complications, and employer would be responsible for those costs.
Employer accepted responsibility for its assigned portion of claimant’s disability pension, but appealed its requirement to contribute to any post-pension treatment, on ground second injury fund should be required to pay those costs. Employer appealed to the state board.
During this initial appeal, state board affirmed the decision employer was responsible for post-pension medical costs, since chemical exposure and its complications were determined to be work-related. As our Boston workers’ compensation attorneys can explain, cases involving pre-existing injuries often require additional litigation. In this case, employer was contending that, since asthma was pre-existing condition, it should be treated the same as her knee injury, and the state fund should pay any award of post-pension benefits.
Employer then appealed to the intermediary court of appeals, which held claimant’s asthma complications related to chemical exposure were properly a pre-existing condition and required state injury fund to pay those costs. At this point, state injury fund of the state department of labor appealed to the state supreme court.
During this ultimate appeal, the court reversed and remanded intermediary court’s reversal of lower courts findings and found employer should be responsible for any post-pension treatment. The reason for its reversal was based upon a review of the legislative history and intent of creation of the second injury fund. It was created out of desire to dissuade employers from not hiring prospective employees with pre-existing medical conditions out of fear these individuals were more susceptible to injury, and when injured, employers would have to deal with increased costs of workers’ compensation benefits. This was especially important in terms of self-insured employers, as was the case here. However, it was not meant to excuse self-inured employers from paying benefits for injuries or illnesses which were clearly work related.
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Boeing Co. v. Dep’t of Labor & Indus., April 17, 2015, Washington State Supreme Court
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