Washington’s Industrial Insurance Act provides for our state’s workers’ compensation system. The Industrial Insurance Act (“IIA”) “is based on a compromise between workers and employers, under which workers become entitled to speedy and sure relief, while employers are immunized from common law responsibility.” Nelson v. Dep’t. of Labor & Indus., 198 Wash. App. 101, 110 (Div. 2 2017) (quoting Flanigan v. Dep’t of Labor & Indus., 123 Wash.2d 418, 422, 869 P.2d 14 (1994)). In other words, workers generally cannot sue their employers or their co-employees (workers who share the same common employer), but injured workers are supposed to obtain benefits for indemnity (lost wages and lost earning power) as well as “proper and necessary” medical treatment.
How is the Industrial Insurance Act supposed to be construed by the courts?
All doubts with respect to the interpretation of the IIA are to be resolved in favor of injured workers. Dennis v. Dep’t of Labor & Indus., 109 Wn2d 467, 470, 475 P.2d 1295 (1987). The “overarching objective” of the IIA, Title 51 RCW is to reduce to a minimum “the suffering and economic loss arising from injuries and/or death occurring in the course of employment.” Cockle v. Dep’t of Labor & Indus., 142 Wn.2d 801, 822, 16 P.3d 583 (2001)(quoting RCW 51.12.010). The point here is that the workers’ compensation system is intended to benefit workers. Too often, the defense interests and even certain industrial appeals judges fail to fully appreciate that there’s almost a “tie goes to the runner” aspect intended in workers’ compensation matters. A true tie is not a win for the worker since a worker must prove their case by a “preponderance” of evidence. The Industrial Insurance Act is remedial in nature, so like all remedial statutes, it must be interpreted liberally by the courts to affect the benefits the legislature has intended.