Amicus Curiae Briefs
An amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief is an organization's opportunity to address an appeals court on the issues before it without being a direct party to the case. From time to time, WSIA will file an amicus brief in an appeal that raises an issue of substantial importance to the WSIA membership or promises to set legal precedent in the fields of workplace safety or workers' compensation. The decision to file an amicus brief is made by the WSIA Executive Committee, with input from the association's legal affairs committee.
Recent notable WSIA amicus briefs include:
Street v. Weyerhaeuser
This case deals with whether competent medical evidence is required in an occupational disease case to establish that distinctive conditions of employment caused the contended disease. The Washington Supreme Court will hear arguments in June, 2017. WSIA led a coalition of allied employer organizations on the brief, including the Associated General Contractors, Building Industry Association of Washington, National Federation of Independent Business, Washington Farm Bureau, Washington Food Industry Association, and Washington Retail Association.
Gorre v. City of Tacoma
This case deals with the scope of the presumption of occupational disease held by firefighters for respiratory problems and infectious disease. Does the presumption extend to Valley Fever, an evidently non-occupational exposure? Agreeing with WSIA's position, the Supreme Court ruled it does not.
Crabb. v. Dept. of Labor & Industries
This case deals with the one-year freeze to cost of living adjustments for time loss and pension payments enacted as part of the state's landmark 2011 workers' comp reforms. Crabb, a claimant at the maximum time loss cap, argued the Legislature's wording failed to freeze the COLA for claimants at the cap, and therefore they should receive a COLA for 2011-12 where workers receiving less benefits would not. Surprisingly, the Court of Appeals agreed with this argument and the Supreme Court declined review.
Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals v. South Kitsap School District ("Zimmerman")
This case deals with another part of the 2011 reforms, the Claim Resolution Structured Settlement Agreements (CRSSAs) and the approval process at the Board for non-represented workers versus workers with attorneys. The former are guaranteed a "best interests of the worker" review of the proposed settlement by an Industrial Appeals Judge. The latter have a more streamlined review process by the three-member Board. Surprisingly, the Board decided the rigorous and paternalistic "best interests" standard applied to even workers with attorneys, in clear contradiction to the plain language of the law. The employer appealed in defense of the settlement, and the Court of Appeals agreed the Board had essentially re-written the law.
Walston v. Boeing
This case deals with the exclusive remedy of workers' compensation, whereby an injured worker forgoes a private lawsuit against an employer in exchange for statutory benefits, unless the employer acted with deliberate intent to injure the worker -- essentially an assault. In this asbestos exposure case, the worker claimed Boeing acted with deliberate intent to injure him by allowing him to be exposed to asbestos in a machine shop decades ago despite having some developing knowledge of the dangers of asbestos exposure. The matter went all the way up to the Supreme Court, which narrowly held that Boeing did not act with deliberate intent to injure, upholding the soundness of the deliberate injury rule and thereby the exclusive remedy of workers' comp.
Tobin v. Dept. of Labor & Industries
This case deals with the right of the State Fund or self-inured employer to be reimbursed for claims costs when a workplace injury occurs because of the negligence of a third party -- so-called third party claims. When a verdict or settlement in a third-party case involves damages designated as compensation for pain and suffering, should the State Fund or self-insurer be able to apply the statutory reimbursement formula to those damages? Challenging decades of practice based on the plain words of the reimbursement law, Tobin challenged on the basis that workers' compensation does not compensate for pain and suffering, therefore pain and suffering damages should be exempt from reimbursement. The Supreme Court agreed, creating the predictable incentive for workers' attorneys to designate as much recovery as possible as "pain and suffering" to avoid the reimbursement function of third party lawsuits.