How to file a Washington Workers’ Compensation claim:
You may already be familiar with the existence of Workers’ Compensation in Washington and its purpose. However, general knowledge will only take you so far when you need to file a claim.
Workers’ Compensation will cover almost any injury or illness as long as it has some connection with your employment. (We will call these injuries and illnesses “claim events” from here on). Claim events include sprains, torn muscles, repetitive stress injuries, wounds suffered in accidents, respiratory afflictions, and physical reactions to hazardous materials.
Although most claim events will take place at the location where you work, that is not a requirement. Anything that happens to you while you are “on the clock” will still be a work-related claim event.
The first thing you must do is to seek immediate medical treatment. An urgent care or emergency room doctor or your primary care physician can help you complete and submit the claim paperwork to L&I. This is preferable because they can supply the required medical evidence to support your claim. It is then very important to report the claim event to your employer, preferably in writing, either directly or through your immediate supervisor. This is a state law requirement, so failing to report can compromise your claim. Your employer has a legal duty to forward this notice to the L&I, which sets in motion that department’s assistance to you in the form of providing you with information to help you understand your rights under Workers’ Compensation. Before you file a Workers’ Compensation benefits claim with the Washington Department of Labor and Industries.
Like so many causes of action for injury under Washington law, Workers’ Compensation claims are subject to time limits known as statutes of limitation. The time limit for injury-related claims is one year from the date on which it happened; for work-related illnesses, the time limit is two years from the date when a doctor, nurse, or other health care practitioner informed you of the existence of the condition.
If your claim event involved a third party, personal injury claims in Washington are subject to a three-year statute of limitation.
If your employer attempts to persuade you not to report the claim event or takes action on its own to keep the Dept. of L&I from finding out about it, that is “claim suppression” and is illegal. It is also against the law for your employer to discriminate against you or otherwise retaliate for your claim filing.
It is not a requirement to have an attorney help you to file your claim, although if third-party liability is an issue (auto accident or construction site accident) then this will involve a civil legal claim and you will probably want to have an attorney.
Once you have timely filed your benefits claim, L&I will assess whether you are eligible. If you encounter any problems during this period, such as a claim denial, that is not necessarily the end of the process. You can appeal an adverse decision, but before doing so you might want to consult with a law firm that practices in Washington Workers’ Compensation cases. This helps ensure that nothing is overlooked and no avoidable mistakes are made which could negatively affect your appeal. We will cover the claim appeal procedure in another post installment.